An unusually beautiful story of boyhood friendship, Little Men is a nostalgic ride which slowly builds towards the unavoidable crash we call the coming of age. This bittersweet tale of manhood effortlessly weaves together the struggles of being a father, a son, a good friend and decent human being. The magic is in the subtleties of its storytelling.
Small Everyday Heartbreaks
I could easily relate to the pressure the father felt from life’s demands. I could equally understand how the son emotionally experienced those realities. What a quagmire! This tension was illustrated by a number of scenes. One small example came when the son entered the kitchen looking for a childhood drawing. It occurs to the father, this picture might have been thrown away in their recent move. The child is upset and tries to explain how important it was to him. The father appears slightly defensive and tries to recover by imparting a life lesson about the goodness of letting go of stuff. But the son felt ignored and rejected. No connection was made, even though both of them wanted and tried to connect honestly.
For many of us, this is a typical parent/child interaction.
What We Really Need
The child is distraught and the adult attempts to comfort him with the truth of a broader perspective. But in practice, the reason it falls so short is because it’s a very self-centered exchanged. I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out. These lessons for “way down the road” aren’t about the child at all. They more accurately express what the adult has recently been or is currently struggling with — it’s the father who needs to let go. In that moment, the son needed to learn how to hold on, not let go. He needed to build a connection with his father. He needed assurance what’s important to him is taken seriously by those who profess to look out for his best interest. Somewhere down the road, he may need to let go of something. But not now. Now he needs the wisdom of a father’s acknowledgment and vulnerability.
Letting You Be You and Me be Me
How often does this happen between children and parents? How many times do opportunities arise to connect, only to be missed entirely? The relationship we want too often isn’t the one we get. How do we change this trajectory?
What if we stopped projecting onto others what we need to learn ourselves? What if we stopped trying to determine what the other needs to learn and just focused on listening deeply?
When we share ourselves honestly, from a personal perspective, and listen with openness, which allows the other to be him or herself, connection is possible. Our most important relationships will look more like the intimacy of the boy and his friend rather than the disconnect of the son and his father.