There’s a lot to love about “Parenthood.” Nearly every character and storyline are gems that make me both smile and cry. However, the stories surrounding Max Braverman stick out as the most important for me. No other show portrays the difficulties of raising a child with special needs this directly and effectively. I’ve never seen anything else that captures the range of emotions so vividly and accurately. As the show tracks Max’s parents’s journey through, well, parenthood, so many moments resonate with me, because my parents have gone through similar challenges in raising my sister.
In the first episode, Adam Braverman and his wife Kristina receive the diagnosis that their son, Max, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Through six seasons, the program followed the family as they deal with adjusting their lives after the diagnosis. Adam and Kristina coped with everything from Max’s difficult self-discovery of his disability after overhearing an argument between Adam and his brother, to managing the complexities of his education. He attended several schools during the show’s run, including schools for children with special needs, mainstream middle schools and, most recently, his parents’s specialty school.
The most poignant example of this came in the fifth season episode “The Offer.” Adam and Kristina had just picked up Max from an overnight field trip after he asked to go home. The scene begins with Max asking Adam and Kristina why the other kids hate him, eventually revealing that one of the boys peed in his canteen because he was a “weirdo-freak.” He talked about how the other children make fun of him because he’s different, saying how he doesn’t understand why they are making fun of him. All Adam and Kristina can do is try to comfort him.
I cried when I first watched that scene. From Adam’s first reaction to the other kid’s awful act — “I’m gonna kill him” — to Kristina climbing into the back seat to hug her son, these are emotions that resonated so strongly because they came from such a real place. That scene represents the combination of the Braverman’s anger at anyone who would hurt their son and their sense of helplessness because they weren’t there to protect him from those kids. I identified with these feelings so strongly because that’s exactly how I would feel if someone were to hurt my sister in that way, and the show portrayed them with such frankness and authenticity.
In the end, that’s why I’ll miss “Parenthood.” The series has told so many beautiful stories over the years with all of its characters. However, in Max, Adam and Kristina, there are three characters whose journey I’ve particularly identified with. To have such a truthful and sincere portrayal of a character with a disability and the challenges that he and his parents face is something that I’ll never forget when this show ends, and I’ll be grateful to have had the opportunity to watch.