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When Fathers Undermine Their Sons

Lessons from the TV series "Shtisel."

Key points

  • A father's competition with his son can have detrimental effects on the son's development, as seen on the Israeli family drama, "Shtisel."
  • Despite the need for autonomy and success, a son wants to maintain a friendly relationship with his father.
  • Young men need parental sponsorship from their fathers, or support for their aspirations.

In the Israeli Haredi family drama, Shtisel, available on Netflix, the father, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, seems to have a very difficult time allowing his adult children to succeed in their lives. In Season 2, Episode 5, there is a poignant scene. Akiva Shtisel, the youngest son, whom the father is trying to arrange a marriage, has developed his artistic talent to become the recipient of a significant prize from a wealthy donor.

At a ceremony celebrating Akiva’s accomplishments and award, the father co-ops the limelight by soliciting funds from the wealthy man for his religious school. Akiva walks out of the ceremony in a depressed and despairing state.

Why would a father not bask in the son’s glorious moment, only to instead promote what is important to himself?

Too many fathers need to lord their ongoing power over their children. Is there a need for the older generation to hold on to its power? Is this need to prevent the younger generation from taking over difficult to defuse?

Many have noted that the adult generation often has difficulties in allowing their children to succeed. In fact, the Greek myth of Laius and Oedipus speaks to this problem.

In the Greek myth, Laius exposed his son, Oedipus, to the elements to die. In psychological terms, this myth represents the ways in which the father’s needs supersede those of the child, whom the father sees as a rival, trying to prevent the inevitable replacement of one generation by the next.

The importance of a father's support

Adolescents and young men in the phase of emerging adulthood need their parents’ permission, particularly their fathers', to support or “sponsor” their strivings — especially their creative strivings. At the same time, the young person needs to retain a positive relationship with the father. In this TV series, the father seems oblivious to his effect on his children. In contrast, the son’s conflict is palpable. He wants to maintain a relationship with his father, despite the father’s repudiation of the value of the son’s desires.

This is a situation which, much too often, gets repeated in real life.


Hoffman, L. (1998). Parental sponsorship and analysis of defenses in adolescence: Review of Bloch, H. S. Adolescent development, psychopathology, and treatment. Contemporary Psychology 43(5):343-344.

Ross, J. M. (1982), Oedipus revisited: Laius and the “Laius complex.” Psychoanal. St. Child, 37:169200.

New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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