The line between helping your kids and empowering them to solve problems on their own is a fine one. Letting kids know that they can come to their parents for help while encouraging them in situations where they have to figure out things for themselves is a priority for many. Nobody wants to raise a person who isn't self-sufficient.
John Roderick's Twitter story about his daughter learning to use a can opener earned him the nickname "Bean Dad."
Podcaster John Roderick — who is also the lead singer and guitarist in the band The Long Winters — wrote about an instance that involved his 9-year-old daughter and a can opener. The kid approached him saying she was hungry and John instructed her to make some baked beans. When she asked "how" he told her to put them in a pot to get the cooking process started. His 9-year-old daughter didn't know how to do that.
Personally, I was a mama's boy growing up, with my mom being a made-to-order cook for my and my siblings. It wasn't exactly the healthiest way to go about building a relationship with food; we had most of our favorite foods at our beck and call and since my mom was constantly cooking, there was an abundance of stuff to munch on throughout the day.
“With a can opener!” I said, incredulous. She brought me the can opener and we both stared at it. I realized I’d never taught her to use it. Most cans now have pull-tops. I felt like a dope. What kind of apocalypse father doesn’t teach his kid how to use a manual can opener?!?— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
So I said, “How do you think this works?” She studied it and applied it to the top of the can, sideways. 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!— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
So I was somewhat digging John's thought process in teaching his daughter how to open a can of beans herself to make a humble meal.
I said, “The little device is designed to do one thing: open cans. Study the parts, study the can, figure out what the can-opener inventor was thinking when they tried to solve this problem.” (The can opener is also a bottle opener, but I explained that part wasn’t relevant.)— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
I went back to my jigsaw puzzle. She was next to me grunting and groaning trying to get the thing. I should say that spatial orientation, process visualization and order of operation are not things she... intuits. I knew this would be a challenge. But it was a rainy weekend.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
However, like most people when faced with a tedious task, John's daughter soon became exasperated at the prospect of discovering how to correctly use an unfamiliar mechanism all on her own.
Eventually she collapsed in a frustrated heap. I said, “Explain the parts.” She said, “This little wheel is meant to cut, these gears turn the wheel when you spin the handle. This other wheel looks like a gear but isn’t.” She couldn’t figure out the clamping step, a key element!— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
I said, “The tool is made to be pleasing but it doesn’t have any superfluous qualities. Everything that moves does so for a reason.” She said, “I hate you.” I’m sure she believes that she does. I said, “You understand everything except how the tool addresses the can.” She sighed.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
But the dad wasn't backing down and he seemed dead set on his daughter learning how to use a can opener herself.
At this point she said, “I don’t want baked beans” and marched off. Apocalypse Dad went into full ‘The Road’ Mode! “Sweetheart, neither of us will eat another bite today until we get into this can of beans.” She screamed “AUGH!” like Lucy Van Pelt. She read a book for awhile.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
Soon she was back at the can. The top was all dented now, the lip of the can practically serrated from failed attempts. We studied the tool some more. She really wanted it to be oriented up and down or across the top of the can. The sideways orientation is very counterintuitive.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
He then chronicled her entire journey of learning how to use the can opener and the peripatetic process of finally opening the can.
She was fixated on orienting the tool in a few configurations and couldn’t imagine other possibilities. I compared the can opener to other tools. By now we were working on anger-management and perseverance too. She suggested she open the can with a hammer. There were tears.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
I told her stories of some of the great cans I’d opened over the years. She rolled her eyes. We talked about industrial design and what a funny little device the opener is. I showed how I open cans with a Buck knife. I rhapsodized about cold Spaghetti-Os straight from the can!— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
Hours and hours went by as he dedicated himself to solving the jigsaw puzzle, and she had extra impetus to learn how to use the can opener as he said she wouldn't eat any food if she couldn't figure out how to get the can opened with the tool.
Eventually she had it all figured out. She had the placement of the tool, she could turn the handle and the can would spin (we were down on the floor by this point), but the “kachunk” of puncturing the lid still eluded us. We’d been at it for SIX HOURS on and off. We were hungry.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
I’d been tempted many times along the way to guide her hand. I wanted her to experience the magnificence of the can opener SO MUCH I couldn’t stand the suspense. Neither of us likes baked beans that much—the cupboards are bare—so it seemed like a paltry reward for this work.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
But John seemed dedicated to teaching his daughter to "follow through" on something, in a way of correcting his own parenting "mistakes" growing up.
I’d forgotten how finicky the tool really is, particularly when it comes to the puncture. She had it all lined up! But the cutting wheel is a little wobbly (by design) and you have to really get on top of it to clamp it down. You know the feeling? You can misfire the damn thing!— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
Finally she squeezed down on it and, although it was a misfire, a light went off in her head. Many times throughout the day she’d yelled at me, “My brain is fuzzy! I can’t think of anything else to try!!!” and I’d say, “When your brain doesn’t work, trust your hands.”— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
She felt the tool click over the lip of the can. I saw it in her hands. By this point she’d developed a little ritual of addressing the tool to the can: starting with it on a vertical axis and rotating it to the horizontal while clamping down in a single motion. A choreography.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
She looked at me expectantly, excitedly. After six hours of trying you don’t want to express too much hope. Was this another blind alley? The can had been through hell, label ripped off, dented, sharpened and burred, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars. She knew, though.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
She set up again, carefully, and brought the Swing-a-Way to bear on the can of S&W baked beans with the meticulousness of Roger Moore extracting a detonator from an ICBM in The Spy Who Loved Me. A soft pop resounded in the room, so different from all the other sounds we’d made.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
She didn’t look up. She knew the action. A little baked bean sauce appeared. She savored each twist until the lid, as I hoped it would, rewarded her by standing perfectly at attention, saluting her effort and ingenuity. She was elated and carried it to the kitchen in both hands.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
She knew this was a commonplace task and a common tool but also that this was serious business. She knows her dad, and the stock I put in these things. A more mechanically inclined kid might have figured it out in minutes. She factored the scale, but was rightfully proud.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
I’m proud of her too. I know I’m infuriating. I know this is parenting theater in some ways. I suffer from a lack of perseverance myself, and like all parents throughout history I’m trying to correct my own mistakes in the way I educate my child. She sees through this.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
The Swing-a-Way can opener is a little voodoo doll for us now. It will reappear as an allegory many more times in her life, you can be sure. She knows this too. But this is an allegory of triumph. I wish I had more of those for myself. I wish I had more stories like this.— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
The only problem is now she wants to open every fucking can in the house!— john roderick (@johnroderick) January 2, 2021
After sharing his entire thread on Twitter, tons of people chimed in to share their opinion of his tale. There were some people who loved that he toughed it out and made sure his daughter learned how to use the tool herself.
I love this❤️. I’ve been a children’s therapist for 14 yrs. This is a story about love. The ppl saying it’s abusive don’t have context re JR/kid so it looks bad to them and they’re projecting their experience w shitty fathers— Don’t text your therapist. (@annie_lieber) January 3, 2021
I love this. My son (8) just watched me open cans a few times and jumped right on it when I told him to do it himself. I think anyone who is freaking over this story just doesn't understand storytelling.— Jennefer (@jenneferparr) January 3, 2021
Other people argued that his acts were somewhat "abusive" and that he was setting his daughter up for failure in the future.
Wtf— ClearingTheFog (@clearing_fog) January 3, 2021
I’m all about teachable moments and being self sufficient, but this isn’t parenting.
“My 9yo is bad at this, so imma make her struggle over it for 6 hours while she’s hungry and crying, and tweet about it.”
I hope she has someone else to teach her how to ride a bike.
The main lesson you've taught her is to let men treat her like shit, to work for their love and approval, and never fully believe that she deserves to get even her simplest needs met. If I was your partner and found out you'd done this, you'd be dumped and thrown out by now.— Shambolic Newyeartral - and also Graham Linehan (@BradfemlyWalsh) January 3, 2021
The argument was that he was teaching his daughter "food must be earned" and that he would ultimately push her away emotionally and he couldn't be trusted to help her when she needed it most. Also, that this kind of attitude toward foods might create disorders when it comes to eating.
Things you taught your kid:— Racheline Maltese (@racheline_m) January 3, 2021
- food must be earned
- disordered eating in the forms of food hoarding and punishing herself by not eating
- asking for help is futile
I’m not done yet....
I was a fan, John, but my dad doing stuff like this to me is the reason we aren’t close these days. What was fun for you was 6 hours of frustration for her, and the main thing she learned is “dad can’t be trusted to help me when I need it”— Morgan Danielle (@imaginmatrix) January 3, 2021
I enjoyed John's tale, and then I saw that he's become an internet demon dad because he made his kid figure out how to use a can opener. Parents have a lot of discretion and sometimes we make our kids take a harder path instead of helping them. I think this is good and expected.— Daniel Jalkut (@danielpunkass) January 3, 2021
You're an asshole, dude.— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) January 3, 2021
From one Dad to another, this story is nothing to be proud of.
You taught your daughter how little you care about her needs, and only your need to show how much smarter you are than she is.
FEED HER, THEN TEACH.
Then delete your account.
But, again, there were tons of folks who also think teaching kids a lesson in "earning" their keep could be helpful. What do you think?