Is Rowan Pope a “Tiger Parent?”

by Vivian Obarski

Rowan-Pope-and-Olivia-Pope-05-775x435If you’re no stranger to Keidra and I discussing Scandal, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been focusing on Rowan Pope and his relationship with Olivia in our talks. While our discussions have ranged from how Stevie Wonder has shaped a generation of African Americans and comparing him to Magneto, I’m starting to see a different pattern between Rowan and Olivia.

What I’m seeing is a case example of the tensions and stress that occur between first-generation and second-generation immigrant families. First generation immigrants are often the ones that immigrate to a new country and their children are often called the second-generation immigrants. It’s commonly used to describe Asian-American families — so common that Japanese Americans use the term Issei, Nisei and Sansei.

With Rowan, while we don’t know much about him, we can assume that he came up through the military ranks after growing up in Detroit, which may be a hint that he grew up poor and saw the military as a way to get out of poverty. After he shoved his wife in a hole,  Rowan sent his daughter to the best boarding schools and paid for an expensive education, driving home the point that a good education and work ethic is necessary to attain a better status (or even half of what the privileged have). At best, he was a distant father, but has also been quick to provide her resources to leave the country or help her in other areas.

This highly authoritative parenting style has been called “Tiger parenting,” a name derived from Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” On a broad, superficial scale, “Tiger parenting” is considered strict and tough with an emphasis that things can be achieved through hard work instead of some innate ability people are born with.

I should add there are other components to “Tiger parenting,” that mainstream media chose to ignore during the hullabaloo surrounding the book, but that’s another article.

However, all of this has come at a price. Without being a hands-on parent and teaching her about her background, Rowan assumed that she would agree with him and adopt his viewpoints simply because she’s his daughter and this is far from the truth. Sending your daughter to European boarding schools ensures assimilation, but probably not in the intended manner.

For me, it reminded me of some of the conflicts between second and first generations as the second becomes more assimilated into a society and the first generation pushes for it, but at the same time resents that their children are losing parts of their cultural heritage. It reminds me of the disgust some people have that second-generation immigrant children only know English instead of their parents’ language.

As Olivia’s grown, he’s criticized her willingness to leave him behind for Fitz and Jake (whom he refers to as “boys”). Indeed by the winter finale, he was playing on her guilt complex, pulling out cultural touchstones such as Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. As a second-generation immigrant, Olivia probably felt the same guilt that plagues some second-generation immigrants about losing their cultural identity (something that’s been well documented in psychological and anxiety studies), but at the same time she doesn’t have that wariness that Rowan has regarding being a minority in a majority world. While she’s aware of her status and identity, she’s still willing to side with Fitz and Jake in taking her father down, which he sees as a betrayal.

A disclaimer: I don’t know if there is a term for African-American diaspora, in which a family moves upwardly from one socioeconomic class to another (which is something the sitcom Blackish also tackles). If there is, I would love to learn about it. I’m just looking this from everything I know about my life as a second-generation immigrant and the familial conflicts that can occur from that.

I didn’t know the significance of using Songs in the Key of Life for the ultimate confrontation between Rowan and Olivia, but the conflict between the two of them still felt oddly familiar. I think that’s because while I might not know the lyrics, the melody of that conflict as one generation assimilates into a society is a song I’m intimately familiar with.

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