Hello, everyone! A month ago I started watching a show on Hulu called Parenthood, a “dramedy” that follows the Braverman clan as they navigate the ups and downs of family life in suburban America. Parenthood is probably one of the smuggest television shows I’ve ever watched, where each of the parents is incredibly insufferable and the kids are nightmares, but I still find myself tuning in episode after episode, if only to hope that Max Braverman, the most poorly-written autistic kid to grace television, might get punched in the face. This post isn’t about my qualms with the show, however, it’s about Adam Braverman, one of the show’s main characters and the perfect example of the “over-protective man.”
The “over protective man,” or OPM as I will call him in the rest of the post, is pervasive in American pop-culture and in American life. He’s the dad who takes “hilarious” pictures with his daughter’s homecoming date warning him to keep his hands to himself, or makes his tween daughter wear a shirt emblazoned with a picture of himself to keep any potential suitors away. He’s Scarface‘s Tony Montana dragging his sister Gina out of a bathroom because she kissed a man he didn’t like. And he’s Parenthood’s Adam Braverman in his every interaction with his daughter Haddie, or pretty much any woman he deems himself worthy of controlling.
The OPM is common enough to warrant its own page on TV Tropes, but I’m going to limit this post to discussing the characters Tony Montana and Adam Braverman, mainly because I find it equally hilarious and distressing that the trope is so embedded in American culture that it pops up in the characters of an über-violent gangster and a mild-mannered white-collar dad. These two characters wouldn’t be able to have even a civil conversation over coffee, but they’re on the same page when it comes to controlling the women around them. The most disturbing aspect? Tony Montana was written in 1983 and Adam Braverman’s character started in 2010. If pop-culture’s portrayal of protective men has changed that little in the past 27 years, then equality between men and women has suffered an equal setback.
To start our discussion about the OPM, let’s first analyze who he is. The OPM is most often a man (although women can embody the trope, too), and he usually exemplifies classic American machismo. Tony Montana, for instance, is a hyper-masculine gangster who accomplishes the American dream by rising up from his poor immigrant status to that of a fabulously wealthy and powerful drug dealer. He’s a provider for his wife and the other female members of his family and he views success as something he’s entitled to because of his work ethic. Other things he’s entitled to include his wife, Elvira, whose beauty he believes cements his status as a kingpin, and his sister Gina, who he insists on controlling in order to keep her as his pure virginal sister. When it comes to money, strength, and power, Tony has it all. To do otherwise would be for him to lose his status as an ideal of American manhood.
In terms of classic American masculinity, Adam Braverman is written similarly to Tony, albeit updated for modern suburbia. He’s a hardworking father with a beautiful wife, two children, and a house in a prosperous neighborhood. As CFO of a large shoe company, he’s the sole provider for his family, and when his wife Kristina chooses to go to work, he at first tries to stop her, then frequently acts as if her career is second to his own. Adam is the undeniable patriarch of his family and the ultimate leader at work and in his extended family, where his sibling often look to him for counsel. Throughout the show, Adam’s stable family life and “take-control” personality cause some to view him as a symbol of aspirational manhood, while others view his success as intimidating.
What separates the OPM from other male characters is that they use their alpha man status as an excuse for controlling the women around them. As comparisons, we can use Manny from Scarface and Joel from Parenthood. Like Tony, Manny is a successful drug dealer who displays similar macho characteristics, but he never verges into OPM territory, and even at some points attempts to dissuade Tony from acting like an OPM. On Parenthood, Joel is Adam’s brother-in-law. He too has a child and a beautiful wife but unlike Adam, he never his uses authority as a “family man” to police the women in his life.
While being fatherly and protective is not inherently a negative quality, the OPM primarily uses these qualities to reign in the sexuality of women around him. Tony displays these characteristics when he first sees his younger sister Gina dancing with another man. Although Gina is an adult woman and Tony has only recently re-appeared in her life, he takes issue with her dancing and kissing a man of her choosing, follows her into the bathroom, violently throws the man out of the room, and then slaps Gina when she tries to stop him. Here’s the famous scene:
What’s notable to me here and especially indicative of Tony being an OPM is that even as Gina vehemently asserts her independence, Tony ignores her, and when she openly declares her right to be sexual, he punishes her with violence. Take a look at the comments and you can see that a lot of commenters are on Tony’s side and glad that he “put Gina in her place.” The notion that it might be Tony who needs to be put in his place is less common. It’s also notable that Manny is the one who comforts Gina and shows dismay at Tony’s actions. He’s as much a masculine man as Tony, but he doesn’t fall into the category of OPM.
The second time Tony does this is when he discovers that Gina and Manny are sleeping together. High on cocaine, he is so outraged that he immediately shoots Manny and only regrets it later when he finds out they were married. It’s after that that Gina shows up at his house to give her famous speech:
Whether or not Tony subconsciously does desire his sister is up for debate, but her message still rings true. Tony is so fixated on the “purity” of his sister that he can’t stand to let any man touch her, regardless of her personal feelings or desires. That’s why the OPM is not merely protective, but toxically over-protective He places his views on female purity above the free choice of the female he’s so intent on “protecting,” therefore robbing her of her free will.
Adam Braverman never goes as far as to kill anyone for touching his daughter, but he exhibits the same toxic over-protectiveness as Tony, just on a subtler scale. Take the case of his daughter Haddie’s first boyfriend. Adam does everything he can to keep Haddie apart from her boyfriend Steve. In one episode, his wife Kristina promises Haddie that she can see Steve if she watches her brother, Max. After doing so, Haddie goes to leave, but Adam forbids her, and after arguing, admits that he just doesn’t want her to see him. Understandably upset, Haddie leaves to see Steve anyway, which prompts Adam to drive to Steve’s house and force Haddie to come back home. She then accuses him of being a hypocrite for happily encouraging her cousin Drew to pursue a girlfriend but preventing her from seeing her boyfriend, and Adam agrees, saying that there will always be a double standard because she’s a girl.
Small stuff compared to Tony, but it grows worse. When Haddie meets her second boyfriend Alex, both Adam and Kristina expressly forbid her from dating him. After they finally relent, Adam then freaks out about the chance of Haddie having sex with Alex and after he discovers that she’s lost her virginity to Alex, refuses to interact with her or talk to her. He cold-shoulders his own daughter for having sex and only decides to interact with her after his wife begs him to. Now, I understand that Adam is a father and that it is difficult and uncomfortable for fathers to accept that their teenage daughters are sexually active. But when a father goes out of his way to prevent his daughter from having relationships and engaging in any physical activity, that crosses the line from protectiveness to controlling behavior. It becomes the same as when Tony tries to control Gina. Purity is the only thing that matters. It’s the subtle line between these that is important because it shows how “fatherly protection” can be an insidious way of deciding when and with whom an independent woman can have sex.
All of these incidents made me want to scream at the TV, especially since Adam never faces any repercussions for how he treats Haddie, who by the way, is probably the most mistreated and ignored character on the show. I hoped that by Season 3 Adam would change, but he’s still going strong. Most recently, a plot line consisted of him telling his young female assistant to dress more modestly because she doesn’t have to rely on her looks to succeed. Now, we girls know that there’s nothing better than a man giving us unsolicited advice on our wardrobe, but it’s even more beneficial when he tells us that the reason we shouldn’t dress sexy is because we’re actually really smart and we should let our intelligence take center stage, not our boobs.
And then of course, after celebrating with drinks one night, Adam coerces his young female assistant into letting him take her home, and walk her to her door, and then almost fires her after she drunkenly kisses him. So yeah, not only does Adam Braverman try to control and punish his daughter’s sexuality, but he also tries to control and punish the sexuality of women who aren’t even related to him.
That’s why articles like “31 Times Parenthood’s Adam Braverman Was Just the Best” really get my goat. Not only is Adam Braverman thought out of as a wonderful character, he’s thought of as a shining example of fatherhood. His OPM tendencies are completely ignored. Not only have we made OPMs a standard male archetype, we’ve also started worshipping them.
Tony Montana, at the very least, is not seen as a shining example of humanity. But neither is he judged for his OPM characteristics. When people catalogue the many reasons for his downfall, they probably don’t list his need to control his sister as one of them. Just like the YouTube commenters celebrate Tony for “protecting” his sister, so do we continue to support the OPM by writing him into our male characters. Both boys and girls learn gender roles from pop-culture, and it’s detrimental for us to teach boys that they should control the sexuality of their female peers, and to teach girls that their sexuality is something to be controlled. In order to change this archetype, the OPM needs to go, and hopefully, real men will take the hint.