Avengers: Endgame carries plenty of lessons on being a man for those who are paying attention. The movie hit the theaters a couple of weeks ago to mostly rave reviews from critics and moviegoers, but there were also a few voices out there who criticized men for going to watch a superhero movie. I’m not a big fan of false or misplaced bravado, so those criticisms (and my kids) motivated me to check out Endgame.
My wife and daughter were out of town this past weekend, so it was the perfect time to take my boys to see it. Apparently there have been 22 Marvel films about their characters, and this one was would tie up the story lines from those films. I’ve watched all of the Avengers movies (not all 22 about the individual characters) and enjoyed them thoroughly, even though I didn’t read many of the comics when I was a kid. While Endgame wasn’t perfect, several messages in the movie caught my attention and provided valuable insight into being a man. Beware: spoilers lie ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading and come back to this e-mail after you’ve seen it.
Thor Finds His Path
Avengers: Endgame picks up with each person dealing with the baggage and fallout of having failed in their mission to keep Thanos from wiping out half the Earth’s population. Each hero is dealing with it a bit differently, but Thor is the most surprising. He’s been drowning his sorrows in food and beer. Lots of food and beer. The result of lots of food and beer: Fat Thor. Seriously. He went from a powerful and ripped godlike superhero to a dude with huge beer gut who plays Fortnite all day. In short, he gave up. He tried to escape. He’d tried. He taken his shot. And he’d failed. And he didn’t feel like moving on. So he just stopped caring. Stopped trying. Just ignored everything. And ended up a fat, sloppy mess with no direction and no meaning to his life.
How’d he get out? His friends threw him a lifeline. They gave him a chance to get back in the game, to take on another challenge, and to face his failures and move forward. To his credit, Thor took the lifeline. He had to acknowledge his failure and his current sorry state, but he did it. And, true to life, his recovery was not instantaneous. Even as he returned to the mission with his friends, he wasn’t all in. The booze still called out to him on the regular. And he wanted to abandon the mission to get some, to take the easy way out. But his teammates wouldn’t let him. Ultimately, it was his mother that set him back on track. Here’s their conversation:
Thor: His head was over there. His body over there (pointing). And what was the point? I was too late. I was just standing there. Some idiot with an axe.
Mother: You’re no idiot. You’re here, aren’t you? Seeking counsel from the wisest person in Asgard.
Mother: Idiot no. A failure? Absolutely.
Thor: Seems a little bit harsh.
Mother: But you know what that makes you? Just like everyone else.
Thor: I’m supposed to be like everyone else, am I?
Mother: Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a man, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.
Thor: I wish we had more time.
Mother: This was a gift. Now you go and be the man you’re meant to be.
Life is a journey where we figure out both who we are and who we need to become. We are born with certain traits, but also need to mold and develop those traits, as well as acquire certain others. There is no separate “who we are” apart from “who we’re supposed to be”, and vice versa. We are born with certain internal characteristics, but we are also born with a purpose. If we refuse to acknowledge our internal leanings, we end up frustrated because we’re not doing things the same way as others. If we refuse to acknowledge that we have a purpose to accomplish, we end up just indulging in our personal preferences without bringing any value to others.
For Thor, perhaps he didn’t have the qualities that would make him a great king for Asgard or that would make him the Avenger to defeat Thanos, but he certainly didn’t need spend his life sitting on the couch drinking beer and playing video games. Both were dead ends for him. Instead, he needed to figure out how to bring value to others in a way that was congruent with his personality, talents, and interests.
The Lesson: Don’t try to be someone else. We’re not all required to express our masculinity in the same way. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be masculine. We should all be strong, courageous, and skilled. But, you have a unique personality, unique talents, and unique interests. So use your distinct abilities to express strength, courage, mastery with other men in a way that benefits your family, friends, and community.
This will almost certainly require you to acquire and develop other abilities beyond those that come natural to you. You’ll have to push beyond your comfort zones, but you don’t need to become someone else entirely. Be the man you’re meant to be, not the man someone else is meant to be. Both men are needed in this world. That other guy can provide value that you can’t, but you can provide what he can’t. And there are people out there that need what you alone can provide.
Here are some resources to help you become the man you’re meant to be.
Tony Makes Peace with His Father
Tony Stark has always had a complicated relationship with the memory of his father. He never felt at peace with the whole relationship. He never felt like his father did a good job as a parent. But in a chance meeting when Tony and Captain America traveled back in time to 1970, Tony got a chance to have a conversation with his father in the days right before Tony was born. What does he find out? That his father was scared of being a dad, that he wanted to do it right, and that his parents loved him deeply. That conversation gave Tony some much-need validation for his own life and closure about his relationship with his parents.
As all of you fathers know, parenting is not easy. There’s no manual. We have a set of values that we try to apply to real life situations involving children with unique personalities, and hope for the best over the long term. Most of us come to appreciate our parents more once we have our own children. Some of us are cognizant of our parents’ mistakes, and we vow not to repeat them, perhaps even going to the opposite extreme.
But here’s the deal: our fathers were simply men trying to find their way in the world, just like we are. They may not have had much of an example of fatherhood in their lives. They probably did the best they could with what they were given. If they were like most fathers in history, they loved us. They were certainly not perfect and, ultimately, may have been failures as fathers. But they loved us. Make peace with that. Don’t judge them by today’s standards of fatherhood. Judge them with mercy. And make peace with them. Because my guess is that, if you could have a conversation with them in the days before you were born, you’d have seen both the excitement and fear that they carried.
The Lesson: Make peace with your imperfect father, even in death. Forgive him for his imperfections, just as you hope that your children will one day judge you by what you tried to do, rather than by the details of your execution. Then intentionally pass on the affirmation of love and peace that you’ve desired from your father to your own children. Have high standards for them. Push them. Challenge them. But make sure they know that you have their back in success and failure, but especially in failure.
Need some direction in your parenting? Click here for some resources.
Tony and Cap’s Friendship
Tony and Captain America have never really been friends. They’ve been teammates who worked together to accomplish missions, but they’ve always had their differences. Cap believed Tony was a selfish attention hog who wasn’t a team player, and Tony believed Cap was a do-gooder who made things much more difficult than they needed to be. It all came to a violent head in Captain America: Civil War.
While they reconciled to work together in Infinity War, it blew up again in Endgame in the aftermath of Thanos’ victory, with Tony blistering Cap with blame for breaking up the Avengers and leaving the world vulnerable to Thanos in the first place. Instead of returning fire, Cap takes the skewering and admits his role in the defeat, even admitting that Tony had been right about a plan for defending the earth. For his part, Tony admits his failure in the Infinity War battle with Thanos, which resulted in Tony losing Peter Parker.
Ultimately, by acknowledging their failures, these two leaders come to trust and appreciate each other. Cap knows that Tony had the right plan all along, and Tony knows that Cap had the right sense of duty and selflessness all along. In the end, their rivalry becomes a true friendship that shaped both of them to be better men and brought greater value to the world than they could have without each other.
The Lesson: We need friendships in which we are transparent and vulnerable. We do not need to cry like babies all the time or vomit out everything that’s bugging us every time we get together, but we need to have friends with whom we can share our fears and our struggles (because those things exist). We don’t need to let anyone control us, but we do need to have people who will say hard things that we need to consider (note that I said “consider”, not “blindly follow”). Such friendship make us better and make life better. And they’ll keep us from becoming Fat Thor or, if we’re already Fat Thor, they’ll help us to change for the better.
Click here for some resources to help your friendships.
Tony Finds His Rest
|While Tony suffered like everyone at the fallout from Thanos’ victory, he had moved on. He married Pepper Potts and had a beautiful young daughter who was clearly the apple of his eye. As a result, he had the most to lose from the Avengers’ plan to go back in time to try to reverse the defeat to Thanos. As he was mulling it all over with Pepper trying to make a decision on whether to risk it, telling her every reason why he should not go, she asked him a simple question: “But will you be able to rest?”
Ultimately, Tony cannot resist going after Thanos. And at the end of the battle, he’s able to steal the stones from Thanos and use their energy to defeat him and save the entire universe. In doing so, Tony knew he would die. He knew the energy of the stones had almost killed both Thanos and Hulk, and would certainly kill him. But he used them any way, in doing so cementing his legacy as one of self-sacrifice for others. He’d come a long way from being a self-described “genious billionaire playboy philanthropist”. Now, he was the guy who risked everything to save everyone.
From Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark became a man. The very essence of manhood is responsibility, and Tony Stark became a man who carried responsibility for others. That’s why his wife knew that, if he didn’t go on that mission to defeat Thanos, he’d never rest, because he could only rest when everyone had been taken care of. That’s what a man does. And he doesn’t rest until it’s done. That’s why Pepper’s last words to him were so powerful: “Now you can rest.”
The Lesson: Men should do what we can to develop and maximize our talents, skills, income, resources, and connections, but not for the sole purpose of increasing our personal happiness. Instead, we should carry a responsibility for the well-being of those around us: family, friends, and community. A boy cares for himself, a man cares for his family, a patriarch cares for generations. Both broaden and deep your circle of responsibility – that’s what creates a powerful legacy. A man’s legacy.
Can you take entertainment way too seriously? Absolutely. Avengers: Endgame is a fictional story about fictional characters. I’m not sure we need to emote over it for extended periods of time. Still, the purpose of art, literature, and drama is to inspire us and cause us to reflect in ways that science and logic cannot. If you’re paying attention, Avengers: Endgame does that very well in a certain areas. If superhero movies aren’t your cup of tea, that’s fine as well. Draw your inspiration elsewhere.
As Thor’s character taught us, there’s no use trying to be someone we’re not. The larger point is to find your inspiration somewhere. An uninspired life will leave you unfulfilled and longing for more. So find it, then use it to become stronger, more courageous, more skilled, more productive, more joyous, more at peace, and more connected with those around you, and more valuable to everyone. That’s the man’s life. Godspeed.
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