On the afternoon of April 28, 2019, a magical moment happened inside a movie theater.
It was the premiere week of “Avengers: Endgame,” and there was no way that my wife and I would miss this highly anticipated film. For over two hours, one mind-blowing scene after another lit up the big screen. None of these, however, could even match what was about to unfold.
The moment happened right after Captain America uttered “Avengers…assemble.” As Earth’s mightiest heroes rushed to engage Thanos’ forces in battle, my wife turned to her tummy and said, “Your very first Marvel movie!”
Yep, she was pregnant. At that moment, I tuned out the film and savored her brief line of dialogue. Because I was going to be a father.
Four years after that magical moment, I am the father of not one, but two bubbly little boys. As I reframe my entire life from the perspective of a dad, I realize that I see just about everything around me in a different light. That, of course, includes my beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Upon further reflection, I find that the MCU is filled with rich narratives about fatherhood. Across 31 films and nearly two dozen television series, there are plenty of powerful scenes between dads and their offspring. Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned:
Dad is a day one hero (so he had better live up to it!)
The MCU constantly reminds me that kids look up to their dads from the very beginning. It’s inevitable for a child to see their father as a hero whose traits are worth emulating. Fathers, then, have the responsibility to wisely use their influence on their sons and daughters.
The best example here is Scott Lang, whose daughter Cassie idolizes him without fail for three “Ant-Man” movies. No matter what transpires in Ant-Man’s life — spending time in jail, being placed on house arrest, losing contact with his daughter — Cassie never wavers in her conviction that Scott is a hero.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Loki in the “Thor” trilogy as well. In these films, Loki betrays his brother Thor on more than one occasion, apparently with the goal of claiming the throne of Asgard. However, a closer look into Loki’s psyche reveals his true motivation: a burning desire to win over the affection of his adoptive father Odin. Loki’s villainous actions can be interpreted as the deep-seated frustration of a son who felt spurned.
Sadly, Odin is a dad who unconsciously equips his kid with destructive skills. What hero inspires their admirers to wreak havoc and adversely affect lives? In my case, while I’m not about to teach my sons how to use extraterrestrial weapons, I have to be wary of the many ways that I might misuse my influence on them.
Through the things I say and do, I need to be the best example of virtuous character. Only by inspiring my kids to become diligent students, responsible citizens, and faithful children of God can I live up to the heroic image in their eyes.
Dad’s kids will be greater than him someday
Another reality of life that’s beautifully depicted in the Marvel films is that, over the passage of time, children gain opportunities and insights that their fathers never had.
Take King T’Chaka from “Black Panther.” For much of his reign as the ruler of Wakanda, he upholds the nation’s isolationist policy to protect their precious resource of vibranium. Even when his young nephew’s well-being and future are in peril, T’Chaka chooses to protect his nation rather than his own kin. But, when his son T’Challa assumes the mantle of king, T’Challa goes so far as to bring a CIA operative into the capital of Wakanda for life-saving treatment.
In terms of personal capabilities and even social impact, there’s a pretty good chance that my own sons will surpass me. While this seems to be an inevitability, I run the risk of curtailing my children’s progress by failing to give my full support. A misguided ego might even prompt me to resent my kids’ success!
But I know I won’t. Fortunately, I have some great examples to lean on, and I’m not talking about fictitious characters on the big screen. In my own life, my father has proudly celebrated all my achievements—from my student days all the way to my professional career. Ditto for my grandfathers, uncles, and other paternal figures who have contributed to my holistic development.
As such, whether my sons make a breakthrough in their industry or achieve a small victory in their personal life, I’ll be first in line to give them a congratulatory hug.
When push comes to shove, Dad will lay it all on the line
While there are plenty of flawed fathers in the MCU, some of them have lovingly laid down their lives to save their children.
In the climactic battle of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the titular hero finally confronts his estranged dad Wenwu. As they are locked in a fierce battle, a mystical creature breaks free from its prison and comes for Shang-Chi. Without hesitation, Wenwu shields his son’s body with his, thus attracting the creature’s lethal wrath. After years of antipathy between father and child, Wenwu sacrifices his life so that his offspring can survive.
Want a more emotional scene than that? Towards the end of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Yondu (a blue-skinned alien) rescues Peter Quill (an Earthling) from an imploding planet. Though there are absolutely no blood ties between the two, Yondu ends up relinquishing his flight suit—and, with it, his only supply of air in deep space—so that his former protege Quill can drift to safety.
Every time I watch Yondu’s final moments of suffering, my heart feels like it’s being pierced by an arrow. And, when Yondu holds the face of his “son” one last time, I simply let the tears fall.
Out of all the dramatic scenes that have taken place in the MCU, Yondu’s death is especially poignant to me. Why? More than any other scene, Yondu’s selfless decision reminds me of the beautiful act of sacrifice that is at the core of my faith.
No film or series, of course, can compare to the greatest story ever told: God giving his only son, so that we may have eternal life and be worthy of being called his children.
That’s one narrative that I will replay for the rest of my life. As my children go through the ups and downs of their growth, I’ll make sure that they draw strength from the story of their faith.
Then, when the time is right, I’ll sit my whole family down to watch a Marvel film or two. While my wife and kids admire the cinematic spectacle, I’ll once again take mental notes on fatherhood.