Teen Roulette

April 4, 2013 — 2 Comments

I’m always fascinated by Mtuseni’s psychological contradictions. For example, the other day I got a very distressed email from him. We had a rough go-round last week over issues of allowance and responsibility. During our chat I mentioned that I’d spent the whole day baking cookies and putting together a package to send him. (Yes, I’m not above playing the parental guilt card.) As usual, he only reads half of what I write, so he seemed to miss that point. So on Monday I emailed him that his package had arrived in South Africa. He was “shocked,” because he didn’t know I was sending something and in the past we’d always discussed packages in detail beforehand.

The mail process has been going pretty smoothly, so there was no reason to walk him through it. Plus, I’d asked him on the phone two weeks ago if he wanted a different type of cookie. (I don’t have many options; they need to survive an 8,000-mile journey — and the kid doesn’t like chocolate. Weirdo!) And I told him I was including a dress shirt and tie to wear at his US visa interview. So he should have known a package was coming (if he paid attention — however that skill isn’t in his wheelhouse lately).

But evidently, based on our earlier argument and then not having a full-blown discussion about a package — Mtuseni felt we were becoming distant. He asked in his email what he had done to offend me and that he would do anything to not lose me in his life. He was truly distraught. I’ve received a few emails like this from him before. It pains me that he still can feel insecure about our relationship, that he still believes on some level that I will reject him. I imagine the abandonment issues come from his father leaving when he was twelve, though Mtuseni claims to have no feelings for him.

Any time Mtuseni is upset it just kills me inside, and he seemed particularly bothered, so I made it a point to call him and talk about it. I told him that no matter what happens — whether we fight or I’m angry with him or we’re both busy and out of touch — that he is always in my head and heart every minute of every day. And that I’m not going anywhere. I didn’t say that for effect; it’s the truth. He is the center of my world right now, and I love him and I love this experience with him… good, bad and everything in-between.

BMH jobSo once he was calmed down and reassured, we talked about things at school. His tenure on the student committee ended last Friday. He loved being the sports co-chair, and working with other students in a high-profile position really has helped him mature. It’s also expanded his social circle, given that he can be quite shy. And it’s a good little nugget for his resume.

So we discussed last month whether he would re-apply. I told him I was concerned because his third-year classes have a heavy workload, and last year he was crazy busy planning soccer tournaments and doing other committee stuff. He told me that, if he applied, it would be for a less intensive role. So this week they’re installing the new committee, and I asked him if he had applied.

Mtuseni said, “I’m still weighing my options.”

“Well, I thought it was a tough application process.”

“Nah, I get special consideration because of my work last year.”

“Hmmm, okay. So what role are you thinking of?”


I laughed out loud. “You seem pretty casual about your campaign.”

He laughed. “Well, it’s not like not Obama and John McCain.”

This kid. One minute he’s wracked with insecurity that I’ll abandon him, and the next he’s brimming with the confidence that he’ll be elected VP of the Boston Media House committee by acclamation.

Last week I needed a crash helmet to blast through Mtuseni’s walls of resistance on career prep activities. This week I need a neck brace from the whiplash of his ever-changing moods. I never realized parenting was such a heavy contact sport. Maybe I should get a cup, just in case. I’m still weighing my options on that one.

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2 responses to Teen Roulette


    Hey Dad, I just wanted to say thank you for mentoring Mtuseni and your dedication to understanding him and his worldview and working to change perceptions and encourage education and knowledge. It is a hard job to be a parent when the kid is living in your house, let alone in another country with such different values than our own. Your selflessness and love is an inspiration and my only regret is that I had not read your blog sooner! Thank you!



      Hey, thanks so much for the words of support. This is a tough job, but worth it a thousand times over. I hope to eventually inspire others to explore the same role… and eventually, once Mtuseni is solidly on his own path, to do something on a larger scale to help these vibrant South African kids hoping for a better life.


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