Wants and Needs and Sacrifice

February 2, 2013 — 2 Comments

I’ve written before about how much stuff American kids have — and for many it’s never enough. They want more. The same can be said of many US adults. People throwing punches and trampling each other to score a midnight bargain on Black Friday. Packs of idiots… I mean “early adopters”… spending the night on the sidewalk to buy the latest overpriced, overhyped i-whatever because they have to have it. They want it, right now, before anyone else.

By comparison, Mtuseni — and his family — have virtually nothing. Yet he never complains. The many things he lacks don’t even fall into the category of wants; they’re needs. If anybody had a rationale to ask me for stuff 24/7, it’s him. But it doesn’t happen. I send him two boxes of clothes each year, and he’s always thrilled and grateful. I’d send much more if South African law would allow it — just to see him happy, to know he’s dressed warmly, to help him make a good impression as his world expands.

So I was surprised to get his brief e-mail this week asking for clothes. The request itself didn’t surprise me; he knows I shop the end-of-season sales now to get him things for the approaching fall and winter in South Africa. What struck me was how the request was framed: “Bud, I need a favour from you. Can you please not give me allowance this year. I just need jeans please.”

Here’s a kid who has very little, offering to give up his allowance so I can get him some pants. Mtuseni knows money has been very tight on my side the past year, although I’ve made sure that it’s never affected him. I can pass up movies and pricey meals and new clothes and other “wants” for a short time while I pay his tuition and expenses and cover some critical needs, like the dentist. That’s what parents do, and I feel richer for the experience. But just the fact that Mtuseni made this offer is one more confirmation of what an incredible kid he is. When I asked how he would function without the allowance (there’s no way he could) Mtuseni said he would “be strong and sacrifice.”

teen-Lucky-brand-t-shirtThe yearly amount I spend on his allowance far exceeds the price of a few pairs of jeans… even if, as he told me last year when shopping, they “must be Levi’s.” 🙂 And I actually bought all his clothes a couple weeks ago. I’ll send the package as I usually do in April as summer fades away down there, or hopefully bring the stuff with me on a visit. So I told him “Don’t worry. You’re covered for clothes. And allowance. Just focus on your work, you have a busy year ahead.”

Along with pants and sweaters (which he loves), I got Mtuseni a thick winter jacket marked down 80% that will keep him warm, but drive the Express Mail charges through the roof. Still, maybe I’ll pick up a couple more pairs of jeans. Because, unlike the kids I see here every day whining about their wants, a kid willing to sacrifice the little he has to get his needs met deserves something more.

 


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2 responses to Wants and Needs and Sacrifice

  1. 

    Daily we are confronted with this issue here in SA. You walk through the shopping malls of the northern suburbs and get a glimpse of the privileged youth with their designer labels and latest gadgets while we have kids in classrooms who are sharing pencils because there is no money for stationery. What is interesting is that the majority of the rich kids in Sandton are obnoxious and rude and then you get a guy like Mtuseni who just wants a pair of jeans and he is so incredibly polite, respectful and gentle. I don’t know how that happens.

  2. 

    I often circle back to the incredible wealth I saw in Sandton and have difficulty reconciling it with the poverty down the road in Alex or in Mtuseni’s settlement. We have many spoiled kids here, but not such wide disparities of rich and poor as in SA. I’d feel guilty having a bejeweled iPad or Gucci glasses when the local grammar school has no computers or library or heat.

    I think part of Mtuseni’s demeanor comes from parenting (it’s all mom, I take no credit). But also I just think he’s a sweet soul. He has his grizzly bear moments — which I think are often borne out of frustration with his circumstances. But I always tread a fine line when pressing or reprimanding him because he has a pretty soft center. I hope life doesn’t squeeze that essential goodness out of him.

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