Magic Year(s)

September 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

NewburyportLast week I was reading a blog I wrote for a university as an MBA student. The first two posts were written weeks before I met Mtuseni; it was a weird glimpse into my life just before everything changed. My focus then was finally getting a master’s degree — and I was also gonna do this mentoring thing with some kid in South Africa. That seemed like an interesting and noble diversion at the time.

The MBA adventure lasted one semester … not my cup of tea on many levels. And five years later, that “South African kid” is the center of my world.

And he was a kid… barely 17 when we first met. Mtuseni turns 22 today! I can’t believe it. When we talked about his birthday last weekend, Mtuseni said he was getting old. Much as I’d give anything to be 22 again (without today’s twerking, texting, and monotonous hip-hop), he’s right. He’s much older now. He was naive, sheltered, and insecure when we first met… and the guidance and opportunities I’ve provided have helped him to grow and mature in many ways. (Though like any male his age Mtuseni can qualify for a Mr. Knucklehead crown on most days!)

But he is different from five years ago. I’m different. And our relationship is changing. His visit to the US in June made that clear… and we’ve had a bumpy summer of adjustments. For me it’s about letting go, allowing him to sink or swim. For Mtuseni it’s about stepping up and stretching himself even farther, as he takes his college diploma into a dismal South African job market. Two months after graduation, he’s already surprised and frustrated at “how long it’s taking.” Welcome to the real world, son!

But as I told Mtuseni, double-digit birthdays only come around every eleven years — so being 22 is a magic year. I think good things are ahead — for him and for me (although my double-digit birthday comes next fall). Mtuseni’s next adventure may be with a South African chapter of City Year, the US community service program. We met the program’s vice-president at the headquarters here in Boston. Mtuseni was impressed, and he recently met with a program manager in Johannesburg. Applications are due next month. I think he’ll benefit from the leadership training, and will enjoy tutoring kids in the public schools — because he’s always wanted to inspire young people and help make a better future for his country. Could I ask for a better kid young man?

Looking back to that earnest, shy, squeaky-voiced shack boy I met on glitchy video chat way back when, I’d say these past five years have been pretty magic, too!


ocean+Cape Town+ Cliffs BeachNEW in May 2014!!

Check out the sample e-book
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Boston+Media+House+graduationThroughout this nearly five-year journey with Mtuseni, there have been many circumstances that are strangely uncanny, as if fate has been a major player in this relationship. One example is his wanting to attend a South African college called Boston Media House, when I live 8,000 miles away in Boston, a most American city. A more recent (and less fun) example is the laptop that I bought specifically for our webcam chats when we were first matched by a nonprofit — which died a few hours after I dropped him at the airport this week, apparently signaling the close of this chapter in our lives.

And the most surprising coincidence is that Mtuseni’s graduation from college — our primary mission all these years — fell on the Fourth of July. For this event truly signifies independence in many ways. Like any kid leaving the relatively cloistered environment of college, Mtuseni now enters the real world on his own. I was such a typically American, vocally demanding parent-advocate for him at school that they probably have a dart board with my face in the main office. But I don’t have the same power to move the South African job market in Mtuseni’s favor, and more importantly, I shouldn’t try. The school gave him knowledge and skills, and I gave him wings. Two years ago I watched him and many other kids sing R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” in a Cape Town karaoke bar. Now with his college diploma in hand, it’s up to Mtuseni to fly solo.

This milestone achievement also marks my own independence, which is bittersweet. In many ways I put my life on hold to make sure Mtuseni got over this finish line, a task that was much more difficult than I ever expected. While I’m excited to pivot back to my own personal journey, and will surely draw upon this experience, it feels a bit sad to relinquish something that required such intense focus and commitment. Indeed, I feel a profound sense of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment in being able to say “mission accomplished.” But the flip side is a slightly empty feeling of “Now what?”

Graduation doesn’t mean the end of Mtuseni and me, but things will change. Even during his visit here last month he seemed much more independent than last year’s visit — much to my occasional frustration and chagrin. But that only means I did my job. For his graduation is not only the culmination of fifteen years in school, it also marks his entry into adult life. And that is a cause for celebration!

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Mtuseni and his proud mom Nester

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Mtuseni with his best college buddy Poloko

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First in the family to graduate college!

 


ocean+Cape Town+ Cliffs BeachNEW in May 2014!!

Check out the sample e-book
for Long-Distance Dad!

 

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Things have been hectic, as Mtuseni likes to say, over the past month. He just wrapped up a three-week visit here in Boston and flew back home to Johannesburg very early Monday morning. Door-to-door travel time… 26 hours. Better him than me!

It was a trip packed with many activities as well as a few challenges and new perspectives. But mainly it was a gift to celebrate the big event to come this Friday. July Fourth may be Independence Day here in America … but it’s Graduation Day for Mtuseni! To say I’m proud would be a massive understatement.

More to come later on his US visit and graduation, but for now I’ll share the picture he put up for his WhatsApp profile when he got home…

graduation


ocean+Cape Town+ Cliffs BeachNEW in May 2014!!

Check out the sample e-book
for Long-Distance Dad!

 

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New Directions

May 30, 2014 — 2 Comments

Almost five years after we first met, Mtuseni and I are embarking on new paths. He finished his internship and will graduate in Johannesburg on July Fourth — declaring his own understanding of independence! Then he’ll enter the “real world” to find a job in radio. It won’t be easy, and recent news reports hint at South Africa slipping into recession, but he’s excited. When I referred to him playfully as a shack boy the other day, he corrected me and said “I’m no shack boy. I’m a Boston graduate.” He’s worked hard for that.

It’s a time of changes. I’m adjusting to the empty-nest feeling of Mtuseni not needing me for every little thing. The day-to-day adventures of getting him educated academically and emotionally have dissipated, as reflected by the recent decline in blog posts here. This is not the end of our story or relationship; there will be more twists and turns ahead for sure.

But recently my creative energies have shifted to the book version of Long-Distance Dad. I’ve always seen this blog as a diary to help me capture and process events and impressions about this incredible journey. Sharing these stories and hearing your responses has been immensely gratifying — and your comments talked me off the ledge more than a few times. Now it’s time to share the story of Mtuseni and me with a much bigger audience. After weeks of delicious torment that only a writer can appreciate, the book proposal is complete and will begin making the rounds to agents.

ocean+Cape Town+ Cliffs BeachOne part of the proposal is a brief e-book sample, which draws upon the treasure trove of images and media I’ve gathered during these five years. It’s only web-based for now; if I get time I’ll create versions for readers and tablets. Click the cover image to open the e-book. Feel free to share using the Facebook and Twitter icons at the top of the book. I hope you enjoy it. There’s even a surprise for those of you who’ve wanted to hear from Mtuseni himself!

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I’m not going away or shutting down this blog entirely; I’m sure there will be things to celebrate or gripe about now and then. But I plan on devoting a lot of time to writing a book that entertains people and inspires them to help kids in need — either down the street or across the world.

Thanks again for all your support, from both Mtuseni and me.

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