Update: On Tuesday, John Roderick published an apology letter for Bean Dad-gate. In it, he detailed how he intended to come across ironically, did not actually starve his daughter, and feels deep remorse for how others may have internalized the story. "What I didn’t understand when posting that story, was that a lot of the language I used reminded people very viscerally of abuse they’d experienced at the hand of a parent. The idea that I would withhold food from her, or force her to solve a puzzle while she cried, or bind her to the task for hours without a break all were images of child abuse that affected many people very deeply. Rereading my story, I can see what I’d done," he wrote.
This story was originally published on Monday January 4, 2021.
It took just two days for the first Bad Take™ of 2021 to consume Twitter, when the now-notorious “Bean Dad” became our first online villain of the new year. But before we dive in, let's unpack how "Bean Dad" came to be.
On Jan. 2, musician and podcaster John Roderick shared a story about his 9-year-old daughter who was hungry for a can of beans but unable to figure out how to open them with a can opener. And like any extremely online father, he decided to share how he handled (what he considered to be) a “teachable moment” with the internet — a fantastic idea any parent who has ever shared any one of their child-rearing decisions with the masses could have advised against.
“So, yesterday my daughter (9) was hungry and I was doing a jigsaw puzzle so I said over my shoulder ‘make some baked beans,’” Roderick’s first tweet, which has since been deleted, began. “She said, ‘How?’ like all kids do when they want YOU to do it, so I said, ‘Open a can and put it in pot.' She brought me the can and said ‘Open it how?’”
“So I said, ‘How do you think this works?’ She studied it and applied it to the top of the can, sideways,” a follow-up tweet read. “She struggled for a while and with a big, dramatic sigh said, ‘Will you please just open the can?’ Apocalypse Dad was overjoyed: a Teaching Moment just dropped in my lap!”
Rodrick, though priding himself on insisting that his 9-year-old just "figure out" how to use a can opener for the first time so she could eat, concluded his Twitter thread by detailing how he made her wait to learn how to open the can on her own, telling her no one would eat until she does. And finally, after six hours, the little girl was successful.
The condemnation from fellow Twitter users was obvious and swift. “You’re an asshole, dude,” one Twitter user wrote. “From one Dad to another, this story is nothing to be proud of.” A number of people pointed out how long the child had to wait to eat in order to “learn” her lesson. “All I’m hearing is ‘that time I told my dad I was hungry and he wouldn’t let me eat for another six hours for no good reason,”’ someone posted. (SIX HOURS, in all caps, trended on Twitter for most of the day and through the holiday weekend.)
Others took issue with the term “teachable moment,” noting that Roderick didn’t really take the time to energy to actually teach his child anything. “Teachable moment means explaining how the can opener works, walking her through the process, and then letting her try on her own next time,” another wrote. And, of course, plenty of people took the more direct approach: “Just open the can and give your child beans you psycho,” someone else tweeted.
Roderick eventually responded to the backlash: “The only thing people are touchier about than parenting style is dog ownership.” He then attempted a few more follow-up tweets, defending his parenting decision as well as his choice to share it with the public, before deleting his Twitter account entirely. Of course, deleting his account only fueled the backlash fire. “Wow. Imagine going out known as ‘Bean Dad’?” one Twitter user wrote.
But leaving children to fend for themselves doesn’t foster independence — in fact, just the opposite. Studies have shown that children learn best by watching and mimicking their parents. Studies have also shown that stress, overwhelm, anxiety, and hunger can all impact the learning process, stifling a child’s ability to learn a new skill.
And as a parent to two children, ages 6 and 2, I’m not in the business of slinging mud at others for their personal parenting decisions. Trying to climb on any high horse would only be embarrassing at best, and at the very least hypocritical. But forcing your hungry child to wait six hours to eat and calling it “essential education” feels cruel. Even in the best of circumstances, that choice on the part of "Bean Dad" appears to be less of an informed parenting decision and more like laziness masquerading as “edgy fathering.”
If the Bean Dad saga taught us one thing, it’s that the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, figure it out for yourself” mindset — in parenting or in literally any other aspect of life — is better left in 2020.