Most often, that one guy is his emotionally distant father, though it can also be The Ace, The Mentor, an Aloof Big Brother or especially that Always Someone Better individual, usually as an old friend of the hero. Almost always a Special Guest, and often a Large Ham as well. When it's a recurring character, usually a controlling parent.
A "Fawlty Towers" Plot will often ensue as our hero tries increasingly more convoluted schemes to convince the "Well Done, Son!" Guy of his worth.
In the end, one of two things happens. Rarely, the "Well Done, Son!" Guy will turn out to have some kind of massive character flaw, and our hero will realize that it's been a mistake to weight his opinion so highly. This may result in the betrayed hero Calling the Old Man Out. Most of the time, though, everything comes to a head when the "Well Done, Son!" Guy finally asks the hero why he's gone to such ridiculous ends. The hero fesses up, and the "Well Done, Son!" Guy explains that he's respected the hero all along, and assumed the hero already knew. If the "Well Done, Son!" Guy is the hero's friend instead of his father, he'll often also explain that he'd always desperately wanted the respect of the hero as well (hell, sometimes the father wanted the kid's respect, especially if there's something big and nasty in his past, probably either ignored by or unknown to the hero).
Cue the Sentimental Music Cue.
In other genres, this can be a bit more understated, with the "Well Done, Son!" Guy simply giving our hero an approving nod from a distance (or saying, "That'll do, pig"). If the "Well Done, Son!" Guy is a Trickster Mentor or Zen Survivor, they may have a very long and painful road ahead of them to get even that. May be part of an Inadequate Inheritor plot. The Fantasy-Forbidding Father usually inspires this sort of feeling. This dynamic is usually father-son. Mother-daughter and father-daughter are not too unusual, but mother-son is rare (unless it's the Jewish Mother scenario, which is almost always Played for Laughs).
A really unpleasant variation is when the "Well Done, Son!" Guy is already dead, which in most cases means the approval and emotional bonding will never happen. At best, the character may gain some comfort by following his understanding of what the deceased would want if he were alive.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Film Animated
- Film Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- The Simple Plan song "Perfect" is about this.
"And now I just try to make it,
I just want to make you proud
I'm never gonna be good enough for you"
"I'm sorry I can't be perfect."
- James Hetfield of Metallica: his lyrics of "The Day That Never Comes" and "The Unforgiven".
- Kellin Quinn from the band Sleeping With Siren wrote the song "A Trophy Father's Trophy Son". The song was written about/from the point of view of his stepkids whose father basically abandoned them and Kellin's wife.
- Pink in The Wall; especially bad because Pink never knew his father at all ("Daddy's flown across the ocean..."). It's twice as tragic because of the gigantic void that his absence leaves behind.
- "User-Maat-Re" by Nile depicts the exploits of its title character, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II,note as a desperate attempt to gain the favor of his dead father Seti I. Said exploits included the conquest of vast swaths of territory and a campaign of temple- and monument-building unmatched in the whole of Egyptian history for sheer quantity.note The song nonetheless depicts the spectre of Seti I as being eternally unsatisfied with his son's achievements ("User-Maat-Re, thou hast done nothing"), driving Ramses to ever greater heights (or depths, if one views this as insanity).
- Fucked Up: The Religion Rant Song "Son the Father" uses a number of family metaphors to describe humanity's relationship with God, comparing God to a distant father who shows no interest in the children that beg for his approval.
"Daddy, Daddy, are you proud of me?"
- Nirvana's "Serve the Servants", from In Utero
I tried hard to have a father but instead I had a dad
- Bliss Stage: The definition of Josh Preston's relationship to the Authority Figure -- his father Jim Preston.
- The Emperor to the Primarchs of Warhammer 40,000, though the relationship sours with many of them. One in particular results in Calling the Old Man Out, Offing the Offspring, Cain and Abel, the destruction of several planets, trillions of people dying, and a new dark age for the galaxy. Yeah, 40k is that kind of franchise.
- Cory from Fences, full on. Even remarked on almost by name:
Rose: Everything that boy do... he do for you. He wants you to say, "Good job, son." That's all.
- Norman and Chelsea from On Golden Pond are a father-daughter version of this.
- The Mrs Hawking play series: Oh, good heavens, Nathaniel. He is desperate for everyone to like him, but particularly to get Mrs. Hawking's hard-won approval. It's the single largest driving factor of his character.
- The Ace Attorney Investigations game focusing on Miles Edgeworth shows that this is most likely true for Franziska. In the fourth case, 13-year-old Franziska competes with Miles, presumably to receive her father's attention. Considering he barely seems to acknowledge her skills compared to Miles, this explains a lot about how caught up she was in Manfred's worldview.
- In the sequel, Sebastian Debeste is eventually revealed to be this for his father, having built up his entire career just to gain his approval. As it turns out, Blaise was exploiting this trope by building up his son's credentials in order to use him as a pawn, which eventually leads to Sebastian Calling the Old Man Out.
- Umineko: When They Cry:
- Eva Ushiromiya, towards her father Kinzo. This causes problems.
- Natsuhi, Kinzo's daughter-in-law, also has this attitude towards him, perhaps even more so than Eva. So much so that when he dies of natural causes, her attempts to cover up his death combined with the stress from upholding the Ushiromiya family name causes her to snap, and as a result she imagines his ghost as a kindly figure who supports and encourages her. In EP5 Bernkastel tells Natsuhi, using the red truth, that Kinzo never actually thought she was good enough.
- Speaking of Bernkastel, her "double", Erika (who Bern refers to as her daughter), is in a similar position, desperately trying to gain her approval by succeeding in her objective as the Detective. Unfortunately for her, Bernkastel has... high standards, to say the least.
- Fate/stay night: If Rin had just been a little bit less of a bitch to her sister Sakura and a bit more supportive instead of, say, threatening to kill her (even if she's just insecure herself), then Sakura wouldn't have snapped and tried to destroy the world.
- In Katawa Shoujo, it is very strongly implied that Shizune Hakamichi's Spirited Competitor personality stems largely from a desire to earn the approval of her Jerkass Abusive Dad Jigoro. Unfortunately, he seems to view most of her accomplishments, including her position as Student Council President, with contempt. Shizune is looked down upon by her father FOR her deafness, Jigoro thinks he gave life to a faulty human being who will never match his own standards.
- In ef - a fairy tale of the two., Miyako became The Ace in an eventually fruitless bid to impress her parents, who were always quarreling each other before deciding to divorce.
- In Hakuouki, Souji Okita wants nothing more than to be helpful to his father figure Isami Kondou and to earn his approval. This mostly leads to heartache for everybody, because although Kondou loves Souji like a little brother, he's somewhat oblivious to how strong his feelings run and how jealous he is of Kondou's reliance on Hijikata. Meanwhile, Souji quickly comes to the conclusion (helped along by the manipulation of Kamo Serizawa) that the only way he can be of help to Kondou is to use his prodigious talent for swordsmanship to kill Kondou's enemies... whether Kondou approves or not.
- Red vs. Blue:
- In Season 7, Simmons sneaks into the Holodeck... and the fantasy he enacts is Sarge expressing his appreciation for Simmons's input and opinions. This is interrupted by the real Sarge... who wants Simmons to come agree with him at a staff meeting, and sees no reason why Simmons might need to know in advance what he is agreeing to.
- With the reveal that Carolina is the Director's daughter, this paints a different picture as to why Carolina was so determined to be Number One on the leaderboard and why she was resentful towards the current Number One Tex, who the Director shows blatant favoritism towards. For Carolina, it wasn't about being the best but just getting some sign of approval from her cold, distant father.
- In one episode of DC Super Hero Girls, Wonder Woman's mother Hippolyta visits her Superhero School. She is dismissive of essentially everything Diana does and every one of her friends. Hippolyta would rather have her daughter go to school back on her home island.
- Rosa Fiametta and to a lesser extent her sister Frankie of Survival of the Fittest have this type of relationship with their father, who has pretty blatant favouritism for their brother Ilario and doesn't seem to care very much about his daughters. Both want acknowledgment/attention from their father, but neither is exactly going about getting it in the right way.
- The Internet has been exposed to a 4chan meme of this nature, SON, I AM DISAPPOINT.
- There is also High Expectations Asian Father.
- Jobe Wilkins of the Whateley Universe. He's still trying to get his father's approval, even though at fourteen he's already one of the greatest bio-devisers on the entire planet. His dad is the supervillain Gizmatic, who only approves of deviser stuff that's mechanical, so lots of luck on that one.
- A Running Gag on Cracked is that the columnist's parents (and sometimes grandparents) are excessively disappointed by their offspring being nerdy, pasty internet writers instead of getting real jobs.
- Morpheus's Twisted Universe's story "The Karma of Serenity" is about a guy who is all about this, and is a bully because his father thinks 'a real man' should act like that. This ends when he becomes a girl due to his twist and she is delighted to find out that she doesn't have to follow those rules anymore
- The Nostalgia Chick sympathizes with the daughters of the My Little Pony movie because she knows how it feels to have a mother who thinks you're a disappointment.
- Until they realize he's actually fairly worthless, newbies from That Guy with the Glasses are desperate to please The Nostalgia Critic. He never notices them. Film Brain still kept his crush until To Boldly Flee, but that ends bittersweetly.
- In the Drunk History series, Ben Franklin is said to have acted this way toward his son William, calling him "my bastard son" and at one point sitting under an umbrella while William conducts the famous kite experiment in the rain, unenthusiastically cheering "Good job, William... you're my kid."
- Demo Reel:
- Tacoma Narrows. All he's ever wanted to do is make somebody proud, and as he sent his dad to jail and his mother hates him, he finally gets it in bromance buddy/boss/best friend Donnie.
- Rebecca too. Her parents openly criticize her every chance they get, from sexual partners to jobs to interests, but she still tries to make them happy and get their approval.
- Donnie ends up taking the cake, as he beats himself up over not being able to be as hopeful as his mother who died from suicide.
- The case of Alexander III and Nicholas II, the last two Tsars of Russia before the Russian Revolution put an end to the monarchy. Alexander had nothing but contempt for his son and heir Nicholas, deriding him as weak and worthless and demeaning him to his face. He also did little in the way of actually preparing Nicholas for the heavy responsibility of ruling the Russian Empire, leaving the young man woefully unprepared for the job when Alexander died in 1894. Throughout his reign, Nicholas proved timid and indecisive and lacked strong leadership and political skills. Nicholas was a devoted father and husband, and an all-around family man... but in large part thanks to his father, he simply wasn't cut out to be a king, and couldn't manage his own autocracy. Later Alex Kerensky took over, and, well...
- Political commentary and biopics tend to paint George W. Bush as suffering from this trope.
- This despite G.W. himself, his mother, and pretty much everyone else in the family stating in print and on video, in public and private, that George H.W. has never been less than a doting father whose children have always known they have his unstinting love and support.
- Winston Churchill's early life was driven by a desire to form a close relationship with his aloof and uninterested father, Lord Randolph; Churchill envisioned quickly getting to Parliament as the best means of being able to work closely together, father and son, a dream that was shattered when his father died young.
- Though exceptionally well-educated and provided for, as children Mary I and Elizabeth I were desperate for attention and approval from their misogynistic father, Henry VIII, which had a lot to do with their respective styles of ruling and general personalities. The way he treated their mothers was also a big part of it (though this is judging him by modern, Anglospheric cultural standards; he was, according to some, a pretty good fellow for his day). There's also the fact that each of them was named Princess of Wales (heiress to the throne) upon her birth, only for Henry to deem each of them illegitimate and strip them of the title as he moved on to his next wife. The mess left behind was so convoluted that Henry had to spell out the line of succession in his will to prevent misunderstandings; on his deathbed he seems to have repented at least some of his behavior, and restored both daughters to the line. (This didn't keep things from going pear-shaped when his son Edward VI died nine years later, though.)
- Queen Victoria, according to several biographers, had this type of relationship with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duchess's evil advisor, Sir John Conroy. The only thing of value the Duchess "owned" was her daughter, the heiress presumptive to the throne, and in order to capitalize on the fact, they demanded that Victoria be perfect. Nothing was ever good enough, which Victoria's diary entries show caused her a great deal of angst. Her relationship with her mother did improve after she became Queen, at least, especially after Conroy's death; documents revealed just how terrible a steward he was and how much his influence drove the Duchess to treat her daughter badly, leading her to apologize.
- Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal about how she wanted her mother to love her. She realized that her writing would never be hers until she stopped writing for her mother's approval and started writing for herself.
- As Japan was tearing apart the film Tales from Earthsea by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki (who had a long-term rift with his son and was skeptical of his son's filmmaking abilities) unexpectedly came to its premiere. Then he wrote a note to his son. "It was made honestly. I liked it."
- Henry Fonda was described by his famous children, Jane and Peter as cold and detached. Jane wrote in her autobiography that her father was more open to strangers than to her: "Often I run into people who describe finding themselves sitting next to him on transatlantic flights and go on about what an open person he was, how they drank and talked with him "for eight hours nonstop." It makes me angry. I never talked to him for thirty minutes nonstop!"
- The traditional dynastic model for much of the Muslim world is that formulated by the fourteenth-century North African historiographer Ibn Khaldun, which assumes that dynasties are formed generally by the leader of some powerful nomadic people conquering a settled region and replacing the current rulers while leaving everything in place. It holds that the first generation is still savage, but very strong, the second generation is adapted to civilized living, and inherits his father's connections and vision, the third generation begins to be soft, arrogant, and insufficiently political, and from the fourth generation it's all downhill until the new conquerors come.
- This Wall Street Journal piece argues that the four presidents from G.H.W. Bush to Obama all have daddy issues: They either have a hero figure as their father and a privileged background or no relationship to their father at all: '"No recent presidents can boast paternity that seems ordinary or normal, finding middle ground between the intense expectations of a powerful, prominent parent and the disasters of badly broken families with absent birth fathers." Makes you wonder if that explains their political decisions. Oh, and all 2012 candidates, as well as many candidates from the previous elections (e.g. Al Gore, John McCain), also fell into this pattern ...