Iron Man 3: How Fathers Create Their Sons In Their Own Image
He was cold, calculating, never told me he loved me, didn’t even tell me that he liked me, so it’s a bit hard for me to digest that he said the whole future is riding on me thing, you’re talking about a man who’s happiest day of his life was shipping me off to boarding school.
~Tony Stark, Iron Man 2
There is one thing that can reduce a powerful man to a little boy. It’s the need to gain his father’s favor or approval. We see it with powerful men who work tirelessly to live up to a father’s legacy of fulfill a father’s unfulfilled dreams. Whether his father is living or deceased, these men yearn for an “Attaboy” or a pat on the back.
Maybe the dad withholds praise from his son to keep him motivated or he disapproves of his son’s choices in life. Unfortunately, what the father perceives as motivation, the son sees as criticism. Howard Stark wants his son to excel but he pushes Tony to his breaking point. Instead of seeing his son for the brilliant young man he is, Howard sets exceptionally high expectations for Tony. In father’s eyes: Son is not living up to his potential. In son’s mind: Dad will never be satisfied with me.
They say every superhero is complicated. Tony Stark is no exception. Behind the “iron mask” Tony Stark has managed to suppress the pain and disappointment in not having a better relationship with his father. He becomes a man of contradictions wanting to save the world but incapable of saving himself from his anger and pain. Despite being wealthy, successful and intelligent, Tony Stark can not live up to his father’s expectations. He creates a double life for himself and tries desperately to balance the dysfunction in his life. He seeks security through women and expensive toys. The money and the sex does little to bring him any real satisfaction.
An internal war rages inside Tony because he feels he will never receive what he wants: His father’s approval. While Howard Stark focuses on his legacy and Stark Industries, Tony focuses on winning his dad’s love. The “Cat in the Cradle” relationship between father and son proves to be damaging to Tony’s self-esteem despite his attempts to cover it up with self-glorification. His drive for becoming a superhero is more about proving his father wrong and proving himself worthy.
This need to win over his father keeps Tony in a perpetual state of boyhood, no matter how accomplished or successful he is in life. The connection between father and son is powerful and a father must keep in mind that his son defers to him as he transitions into manhood. A father’s approval or disapproval of his son can make his son feel unworthy and insignificant. His son may spend his life chasing success, fame, wealth or power just to prove to his dad that he is just like him or better.
The father/son relationship is the least nurtured in a family. In the Stark family, the message is clear: Achievement takes precedence over emotional connection. The result of a broken father/son relationship is that the son never fully develops as a man. He longs for praise and adoration. What Tony Stark fails to realize is that as much as he wants to set himself apart from his father, he is very much like his father. While his father built an emotional armor, Tony built a real armor. Until a father hands his son his ” spiritual birthright”, a son spends years in the “waiting place”, waiting for dad to give him a wink and say, “Attaboy!” Fathers need to understand that withholding approval from their sons creates feeling of resentment, shame or inferiority. Our goal in raising boys is to help them become happy, healthy, confident, and successful men. This starts with fathers and sons connecting, communicating and breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships.
This post is part of the Building A Better Man: Iron Man 3 The Upgrade Yourself Review Series
Part I: Who Does She Really Love: The Man or the Machine by Victory Unlimited Show
Part II: The Blueprint of a Man by The Style Gent
Part IV: How to Dismantle an Iron Man by Victory Unlimited Show