A couple of months ago, my wife, Anna, and I were feeling like crappy parents. Feelings like: being too distracted, too busy, not focused enough, don’t play enough—just flat out failing the kids. It sucks because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you're failing the ones you love the most. We regrouped, hugged, reminded ourselves we weren’t the worst, and thought about a few simple things we could do each day to connect with our kids.
A few weeks after that conversation, we took the boys for a walk at a nearby park. We were just getting started and noticed that close behind us was a man with muscly legs, a cut off shirt and an American flag bandana. I couldn’t say for sure, but he looked like a war veteran. He was walking close to our pace and since we didn’t feel like having company for the next few miles, we stopped and stretched to let him get some distance ahead of us before we continued.
When we got to the top of the first hill, Griffin, our three year old, wanted to get out of the stroller and run downhill. So I took off with him. As we came around the first turn we saw the bandana man and we passed him. Anna came close behind us and we all stopped toward the bottom of the hill to catch our breath.
The guy kept plodding along and passed on by us with a small nod and a wave. Once rested we started walking again up the next hill. At the top of the next hill, the story repeated. We passed him, then he passed us, just like the Tortoise and the Hair. Each time we’d catch our breath, and he would pass by with a smile and a nod.
The third time this happened, the story changed unexpectedly. As we were catching our breath at the bottom of the hill, the man in the bandana (who is now soaked in sweat) walked by, but instead of nodding he said with a smile, “Hey little man! You’re an inspiration. Keep it up! And hey, thanks mom and dad for being great parents. We need more people in the world like you two. You’re being such a great example out here doing this with your kids. Thank you so much. You’re great parents!” He said this without stopping and gave us a thumbs up before he turned his face back toward the next upcoming hill.
"You’re being such a great example out
here doing this with your kids."
Anna and I looked at each other stunned and we smiled because it was so cute and sweet. We continued our walk and, like before, when we got to the top, we ran down and passed the man in the bandana.
This time when he got close I asked him if he knew the distance of the road we just walked and he pulled out his phone and showed me an app he was using to track his route. I asked him if he was from around here and he said he was visiting from Wisconsin. I said thanks for showing me the app and he kept walking. As he got a few feet ahead he turned and looked at us and again said, “Hey guys, seriously, thanks for being great parents. The world needs more of your kind. Seriously, I really appreciate it. Thanks for being great parents!”
Once he was out of hearing range I turned to Anna and said, “I’m sorry but that was so weird—and good—and just…my gosh, I seriously feel like that guy could quite possibly be an angel or something.”
“I know. Me too.” Anna said with her eyes getting watery.
When we got back to the car we sat silently for a few minutes. Anna broke the silence and said, “I’m such an asshole.” I looked at her surprised. “Seriously. I never do what he just did. How hard is it to just be nice? To just encourage people? It takes no effort. No energy. It’s so easy and it does so much to someone. That guy knows nothing about our life. He has no idea how last week we were both feeling like failures as parents. He could have scolded us for running down the hill with a three year old and a stroller. He could have told us to be careful. Or he could have just kept to himself because he’s from Wisconsin and we’re from Michigan and he’ll never see us again anyway. But he didn’t. He has no idea how much that meant.”
She paused … “I’ll never forget that.”
“What’s weird is how he owned the compliment.” I said. “Like we worked for him or something. “Thanks for being great parents. I really appreciate it.” Like our parenting was directly affecting him.”
There’s a line in the book of Isaiah that says, “How lovely on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news.” I’ve read this phrase from the book of Isaiah my whole life. Some things can be read and memorized, but not known or realized.
I took me a while but now I know how lovely the feet on the mountains are, because I met them. They’re sweet, encouraging and wear a bandana.
It felt like God, it looked like a sweaty bum who walked like a duck, feet pointing outward to 10 o’clock and 2. A messenger passing by to encourage us on our journey. An angel in disguise. A guy from Wisconsin with love in his heart. Someone who wasn’t looking for a thank you, or a compliment in return.
His words carried us the final mile of our walk and rolled around in our hearts as we lie in bed staring at the ceiling, pondering our life, our purpose, our destiny—asking the big questions like, “Do I have what it takes?” “Am I enough?” “Am I a good parent?” And the words of a stranger answer, “I really appreciate you. The world needs more of your kind. Thanks for being great parents!”
“How lovely on the mountain are the feet
of him who brings good news.”
I roll over, believe his words and believe in myself a little bit more. I say a little prayer that God would bless the bandana man from Wisconsin, that God would repay him for his kind words to me, and something in my heart whispers back, “The givers reward is the gift. Give to others what you have been given, and you will be full.”
I close my eyes, and each morning commit myself to be ‘the Bandana Man’ to someone today: to my wife, my children, a stranger at the gas station, a bill collector on the phone, an employee at the drive through, and last but not least…to myself. Because there’s no stronger voice than the one going on in your head 24 hours a day. There’s no greater enemy or no sweeter angel than the kindness of your own voice, watering your own soul.
In Paulo Coelho's book, Manuscript Found in Accra he says, “When you’re low on your journey and feel like giving up; rest quickly and get moving, for the moment you dedicated yourself, your goal heard you coming and began running toward you.”
We were hard on ourselves that night. We felt like failures. But we did all we could do. We were honest, we regrouped and dedicated ourselves to the small daily things we could do to be the best parents for our children.
Honesty often sends a messenger, and our goal heard us coming, and started running toward us.
Ronnie is an artist who's ideas have launched businesses, apps, music albums, and as of late, cartoons. Visit his website here. He thinks outside the box but don't tell him that, he doesn't believe in boxes, unless you're in a movie cinema. Ronnie lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A with his wife Anna and their three boys Jack, Griffin and Maverick.
See previous articles by Ronnie Herrema