“Discipline is helping a child solve a problem. Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem. To raise problem solvers, focus on solutions, not retribution.”

L.R. Knost

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?

We can.

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?

Mountains move.

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.

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“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.”

Teich Naht Hanh

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most imporant work.

John Trainer

It’s funny how those life-changing “ah-ha” moments happen when you least expect them… like watching the last Rocky movie.  The character of Rocky has always been fascinating to me. Maybe that’s because the story has been around as long as I have. Growing up, Rocky reminded me a little of my own father — strong on the outside, soft on the inside, and nothing pretentious in between.

The final chapter of the Rocky story begins by revealing what happens after all the glory fades. He had fame and fortune and was on top of the world, but as he’s aged, life has taken its toll. People still recognize him on the streets, and ask for his autograph, but the money’s all gone. He grieves the death of his lovely wife, Adrian. On the surface, he seems painfully unaware of his own irrelevance — the world has moved on but he appears to stuck in the past, living backwards.

But there is more than meets the eye.

Rocky seems to have figured out something about life few of us get to taste. He is truly free from the opinion of others — not in the way that devalues others — but in the way that can keep us from ever knowing ourselves, forming our own opinions and convictions, and taking a stand in the world.  Over the years, Rocky has become a remarkable man inside; he’s simple and far from perfect. He’s unpretentious, humble, gracious, strong, confident, and vulnerable and real and wise. This kind of perspective is only possible for a man who gives up trying to be what he thinks everybody else wants him to be, a man who stops pretending to be something he is not, a man who is so comfortable in his own skin his very presence invites us to take another step in becoming comfortable in ours.

In this scene, he speaks to his son as only a father can — with love and truth. Rocky calls him out of his own insecurities without blaming or criticizing him. Rocky calls his son to something bigger by restoring his true identity. Then he walks away. You get to decide who you are going to be.

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