As a general rule, I do not judge parents or parenting styles.
That’s because I’m not a parent.
I’m child-free by choice — the reasons for which aren’t relevant to this story — so I don’t see it as my place to pass judgment or criticism onto those who do have children. With few exceptions, it’s a pretty easy rule to follow.
One of those exceptions showed up today.
I woke up and checked the news on my phone. I was perusing various apps in my typical order when I happened to see that “SIX HOURS” was trending on Twitter. “Huh?” I wondered, “What’s this about?”
The curiosity got the best of me. I should have resisted the urge, but on a snowy Sunday morning, I had little else on my agenda so I figured, why not?
I soon found myself enraptured by a 23-tweet thread by John Roderick. You know, the Harvey Danger “Flagpole Sitta” dude? It’s OK if you didn’t know that, I didn’t either but we have Google to thank for these factoids that orient us to the wild world we live in.
But when I say “enraptured” I don’t mean that in a good way. With each tweet that maxed out the 280-character limit, this guy wove a story about power dynamics, narcissism, and self-centeredness that makes me seriously question whether fathers should be allowed to have daughters. I didn’t go into the thread thinking I’d align with the daughter and come to view her father, the story’s author, as the villain, but within a few sentences, it was strikingly clear that’s what would happen.
What did her father do that garnered so much disdain and contempt? What kind of egregious abuse would warrant such a harsh reaction?
He made her open a can of beans.
I know, I know. If I was reading this I’d be rolling my eyes straight out of my head. But it’s not what he did, it’s how he did it.
As the story unfolded, John painted himself the hero as he repeatedly wielded dominance, dismissiveness, and deprivation over his 9-year-old daughter. At times he seemed to mock her logic and disregard the fact that she asked him for help and guidance. He deemed it a “Teaching Moment” to persevere through while she expressed frustration, confusion, and hunger.
And this went on for six hours.
Actually, since she approached him with the can of beans when she was already hungry, I would venture to guess the entire scene played out for longer than that.
Let’s pause here and acknowledge a few truths:
- There is more than one correct and efficient way to do things.
- Every situation brings nuance and context that is not immediately clear to someone outside the situation.
- There are multiple ways to learn; everyone learns differently.
- The dynamic between family members is ever-changing.
- I can be a judgmental ass on the Internet just like everyone else.
But beyond those truths, I think there are a few other interesting elements at play.
First, his daughter was being forced to use a tool that wasn’t designed for her hands. He even admitted the design and function of a can opener aren’t intuitive. As researcher and author Caroline Criado Perez detailed in her book “Invisible Women” there is a multitude of tools, technology, and safety devices that are designed for the default male — that is, hands and bodies that are generally larger, longer-limbed, and stronger than their female counterparts.
Imagine an adult man’s hand gripping a can opener, compared to that of a young girl. Why did he have such difficulty recognizing that perhaps the problem was not her lack of understanding as to how the tool works, but that the tool works differently for her?
Second, despite differences in learning styles, there comes a point where learning and retaining new knowledge becomes difficult. In this situation, frustration was exacerbated by hunger, along with distractions as the father regaled her with stories I’m sure she did not care about. He spat out half-hearted instructions and observed her attempts to use the can opener as she declared her “brain was fuzzy” and couldn’t think of anything else to try.
I don’t know about you, but have you ever sat in a classroom or training session with a growling stomach?
Hunger is one of the biggest obstacles faced in classrooms. That’s why there’s such a push to offer free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs, especially in communities hit hard by food apartheid and food insecurity. Students are better able to learn when they are nourished and fed, it’s as simple as that.
Third, since we’re on the topic of learning environments, let’s talk about learning at home. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Education, within and beyond the classroom, doesn’t look anything like what we’re used to. Again, since I’m not a parent, I can’t speak for them but I’m willing to bet this isn’t what they signed up for when they decided to bring new life into this world.
It seemed to me as if his daughter was using skills she already possessed and past knowledge to address a current problem. She assessed her appetite, found a seemingly viable solution, recognized she needed help, and asked for it. Maybe her father was burnt out and dissociating when she dared to interrupt him while he was working on a puzzle, but why not just take the path of least resistance?
Instead of turning it into a treatise on mechanical operations and motor functions, why not just feed your daughter? Why not just model the unfamiliar skill and explain how it works? Why not offer her the chance to observe, listen, and watch, helping her build confidence? Not to mention, build trust in knowing that if she goes to her father for help, he will indeed help.
It was particularly telling that (with a few exceptions) those in support of his tactics were men, usually white. And most of those in opposition were women, with no discern-able racial majority. In some cases, I don’t think gender matters and isn’t worth mentioning, but in this instance, I think it’s the crux of the issue.
Fathers are a daughter’s first impression of men and maleness. They have the ability to shape her perception of not only her world and how they interact inside it, but the world as a whole and what it means for her. Her safety, her relationships, her skills and talents, her identity, her expectations. I could go on, but suffice it to say, fathers have a bit of responsibility here.
He labeled this a “Teaching Moment” but I can’t help wondering if his daughter learned the lesson he intended to teach. I agree with many of the commenters in that she likely learned more about how she is treated by the men in her life versus how to use a can opener.
Maybe his daughter will swiftly forget those moments of being made to feel foolish and incompetent. Or maybe it will stick with her for a lifetime and shape her every attempt to learn a new skill from this point forward. Maybe she’ll someday have a Twitter account of her own and realize her father once told her, “The tool is made to be pleasing but it doesn’t have any superfluous qualities” like a pretentious jerk.
Perhaps that’s the part that feels the grossest to me. He likely embellished the story in some ways, but at some point, he thought to himself, “I think I’ll sit down and tweet about this.” I can’t begin to assume what his motivations were — was he looking for pats on the back? Approval and applause from his followers? A few thousand likes?
Whatever he was looking for, it seems he exploited his daughter’s struggle for clout. I mean, there is the persistent myth that “any PR is good PR” so perhaps that’s what he was going for, but regardless, it seems this thread was really about him and his ego.
He’s clearly an avid, competent storyteller. As a musician and podcaster, that’s literally his job. And what is social media other than a short-form method of storytelling? But if he wanted to hone his craft or show off his skills, why this?
In his responses, he double-downs on reiterating that this is not emotionally abusive, his daughter had a full breakfast that day so she couldn’t have been that hungry, and that anyone who disagrees “sucks”. It’s obvious he isn’t open to even the slightest interrogation of his methods, and that’s where I think the real teachable moment lies.
Why are men so resistant to learning where they actively harm the other people in their lives? Especially their children?
Even as adults, we all have an inner-child, one that is reminiscent of ourselves as an actual child. Parenting is what teaches us the resiliency to survive, and hopefully thrive, in this mad world. When our parents fail us in small and big ways, it’s up to us to re-parent ourselves. Something easier said than done, especially without the help of a supportive, compassionate, and competent therapist.
Men, please. Just go to therapy.
John views himself as dominant, and therefore, should not be subjected to criticism or questioning. He views himself as intelligent, and therefore, should not be forced to explain his reasoning or point out what he feels should be obvious. And it also seems like his leisurely activity took precedence over his daughter’s basic needs.
He feigns self-awareness; at one point he admits it’s all a little theatrical.
Eww. It reads like, “Oh hey, I’m kind of an asshole to my daughter but it’s fine because I’m just a parent, doing what parents do. I’m relatable, so you can’t judge me.”
There’s so much that seems wrong in this. And I admit, again, that since I am not a parent it’s really not my place to judge. But when you take a story like this a splash it out on the Internet, what do you expect? You’re practically inviting it. I’m doing what amounts to the same here, offering my unsolicited take and projecting some of my own beliefs into the mix.
Social media is a public domain, and you’ll inevitably run into opposing opinions. Everyone has beliefs and values that are shaped by their past experiences, both positive and negative. But when I see threads like this, and the responses that accompany them, I see it as just another example of how men carry so much power to shape public opinion and establish what is normal and acceptable.
This is also one of the rare instances where I’ve seen a father come under such scrutiny for his actions (which is usually reserved for mothers, and for far less). Is it possible that people feel more emboldened to hold men to account for their actions than they used to?
You can’t form a conclusion based on a single example, so I’m not ready to declare that to be true. But it indicates that when it does happen, men aren’t exactly receptive to having their missteps laid out in front of them. Nor are they lapping up the suggestions for what to do differently in the future.
It’s almost as if…hmmm.
Nah, that can’t be it. Surely not.
But it’s almost as if they don’t like being unfairly scrutinized or judged either.
At this point, I’m back to enforcing to my rule of withholding judgment of parents and parenting. I’m retreating to my child-free existence, where I sleep late on weekends and have free time to write an essay about things I observe on the Internet.
Or you know, complete a puzzle without being interrupted to open a can of beans for my daughter.
UPDATE 1/6/2021: In the time since going mega viral, John Roderick deleted his Twitter account and issued an apology, which can be read in full on his website.