20 and Change

September 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

South-Africa-teen-pizza-restaurantMtuseni turns 20 today — I can’t believe it! That old Kodak jingle keeps running through my head, “Do you remember the times of your life?” How did he grow up so fast? What happened to the shy, slight teenager in the yellow school uniform that I met three years ago?

Talking to him on the phone this morning, Mtuseni said he felt different, “I am only getting older now,” he said. “I can’t be younger.”

Indeed, he has grown and changed in so many dimensions. He’s more confident and self-sufficient. He has a broader perspective on the world and is more open-minded to different people and ideas. He’s flourished being among peers where “people talk about life” — his phrase for those college conversations where young intellects begin flexing their muscles. Mtuseni’s taken on more responsibility at school, and is determined to lift his family out of settlement-life. He’s even grown physically — as evidenced by his desperate need this spring for all new pants… and an ever darkening smudge across his upper lip.

But a consistent theme of this experience has been the mutuality of change. To help Mtuseni navigate to this point, I have listened to him, encouraged him, supported and prodded, yelled and praised. And in the process, being a dad to Mtuseni has taught me about patience. And sacrifice. And commitment. I’ve learned about gratitude and letting things go and healthy interpersonal conflict. About resilience in the face of challenges. And about unconditional love.

So as I’ve helped guide Mtuseni on the road to manhood — he’s helped me become a better man.

I woke up this morning to his MXit message that said,

“u have kept me standing in my two feet and kept my mind off all the bad things of the world and given me a chance to be a brighter star among stars. thank you.”

No, buddy. Thank you. And Happy Birthday.


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