The Legend of Bean Dad
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posted 03 Jan 2021 by Krister Axel
It started with a hungry 9-year-old, a can of beans, and a jigsaw puzzle.

I like to think of myself as something of an internet historian. I write mostly about music, but I am also slightly obsessed with the concept of "long tail" - the art that falls through the cracks, you might say. So much that is interesting and worthwhile gets forgotten in the scramble between 24-hour new cycles and a fascio-corporatist penchant for mind-numbing propaganda. At its worst, our social media filters disappear important details in a way that is eerily indistinguishable from Orwell's memory hole. And then, sometimes, an internet pseudo-celebrity erases themselves in fit of personal pique. This is one of those times.

Although this happened on Twitter, you won't read much about it anymore - a musician, podcaster, and tough-love dad from Seattle who deleted his account after getting 'ratio-ed' on a post about his daughter. He is Bean Dad. His story begins with a hungry 9-year-old, a can of beans, and a jigsaw puzzle.

First the Music

John fronts the Seattle-based indie rock band The Long Winters, and as far as I can tell, has been taking it easy for at least 5 years now. Having kids will do that to you. In my book, putting down a few records for Barsuk is definitely something to be proud of. The music is good. I also really like their cover of a song by Nada Surf (Hi-Speed Soul). If you are from Seattle, maybe there is an inside angle, something about his music that brings back memories. He worked with the city of Seattle on a series of short tourism vignettes that I think is pretty cool.

The Tweet Thread

At around 3pm on Jan 2, 2021, John shared a story on Twitter about his daughter. She was hungry; he was doing a jigsaw puzzle. He recommended making beans. Apparently, there wasn't a lot of food in the house. The main thread is here and here - the shortened version is basically this:

Hungry 9-year old asks dad for help.

Dad is busy, tells daughter to make beans. She says that she doesn't know how.

Dad decides to make this a teaching moment, and forces daughter to figure out how to use the can opener on her own.

Hours go by. There's a fair amount of crying, and frustration, but finally the can of beans is opened. Daughter and dad both share in the mushy bounty.

The Aftermath

Now, that might not sound so bad to you. Or, on the other hand, maybe the dad sounds a bit like a villain. Here's what I think: in our insane world of over-sharing and normalized narcissism, this kind of thing is bound to happen. In John's tidy world of musician friends, black-coffee drinkers, and erstwhile hippies, maybe this stuff just flashes right by. On its face, this tweet-thread is just a bland, overly-detailed account of familial dirty laundry, exaggerated for dramatic effect. Even so, on another day, maybe (mostly) no one ever hears about it. But, this one just happened to go viral.

The Trauma

Simply put, John's story put a small subset of Twitter users into a sort of flashback - they were reliving their own trauma, and the narrative of an emotionally obtuse dad, engineering frustration for his daughter who is only 9 years old, happened to strike a nerve. That's powerful stuff. Something about the tone is a bit playful, which I think may have been part of the trigger. John writes thoughtfully, spinning the tale with levity, but also with a certain detachment. We don't know the relationship he has with his daughter; so in a fair world, he would get the benefit of the doubt. And although the initial thread was the spark, it was the subsequent scrutiny, and the uncovering of 'historical' tweets by his detractors, that made a bad situation much worse. There were claims of anti-semitic and racist comments in his timeline going back many years, and I don't want to make this about those allegations - I would never condone hurtful language in any way. That being said, I think there is a fine line between humor, and bad taste, and injury, and if you made a ranked list of people - just in Oregon - that deserve to be called out for making racist or anti-semitic statements, Bean Dad would be nowhere near the top of it (hint: you can start your search in Malheur County). None of it is ok. But compassion is important. I certainly do think that allowing a 9-year-old to spend 6 hours - if true - mastering the art of wielding a can-opener is in poor taste, but it doesn't matter what I think. This feels like a privacy issue - he shared perhaps too much, and was judged harshly for it. Case closed. We should ask ourselves instead why it is that so many of us are still dealing with childhood trauma.

The Humanity

I wish everyone could just feel better. I wish we all had healthcare; I wish we were able to elect leaders that truly honor the will of their constituents. Failing that, sometimes it feels like we make up for it by choosing pointless enemies. Just this week, Twitter blue-checks are yelling about Jimmy Dore, and civility; defending AOC and Mama Bear Pelosi in the same breath; and turning the left against itself. This is a great time to just turn it all off. Maybe that's all this is: simply a Portland dad getting back to what's real. Anyway - if you happened to step away from Twitter this weekend, and missed the story of Bean Dad, I got you.

The Lesson

This one comes from @maplecocaine:

Each day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it

About the Author

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Krister Bjornson Axel

Ogdensburg, New York

Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.


Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist