In about six weeks Mtuseni will be taking final exams for his final semester of classes. Aside from doing a 100-hour internship, the hard work is done. Thinking back to how much he struggled — and how unhappy he was — in his first semester, it’s amazing how far he’s come. Not only does he have more knowledge, he’s more confident, outgoing and independent. Mtuseni doesn’t need the daily handholding I provided in our first few years. As a friend recently said, that means I did my job.
It took me a little while to mourn the loss of that constant connection, a virtual version of empty nest syndrome. But then it dawned on me that now I have time to focus on my life. I put it on the back burner to parent a kid living in a slow-motion culture 8,000 miles away — and it looks and feels a little ragged, though I have zero regrets.
But as Mtuseni turns toward new directions in his life, I now pivot back to my own. He posted a picture on WhatsApp this weekend from his big 21st birthday bash. In it he’s wearing a casual button-down shirt that I sent him last year. It’s a beautiful shirt, and I debated for days about keeping it for myself — before finally relenting and tossing it into his care package of clothes and cookies. I still want that shirt!
Meanwhile, every day, in every season, I open my closet and bureau and am bored stiff by my own wardrobe, which has not seen one new item since Mtuseni started school — and the South African bills started piling up. I can never claim deprivation compared to the way Mtuseni and his family live. But still, a little self-care does a body and soul good. And now that Mtuseni is on cruise control, the see-saw can use a bit of rebalancing.
I stopped marking my birthday a few years ago. Passing the half-century mark was a bit of a mind-fuck, so I smashed the odometer and don’t think about the numbers anymore. Still, growing up and living in New England, I’ve always felt lucky to have an October birthday. It falls just when peak foliage arrives in Boston — as if the world sets off fireworks in my honor. So to bring some equilibrium back to my Libran scales, I’ve decided that this October will be “31 Days of Me”…
Perhaps I’ll buy myself a nice shirt one day. Visit a museum that’s been on my must-see list for years. Have a drink at one of the city’s priciest restaurants. Cook something daring from my mountain of exotic recipes. Take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Skype with an old friend. Or maybe just take five deep breaths in a row. The details aren’t important, and every day doesn’t need to be a mind-blowing indulgence. But for once in a long time — maybe ever — this month will be all about me. It will make me a happier, calmer, better person — and a better dad.
Because this doesn’t mean letting up on the gas with Mtuseni. He already knows that October for him will be the month of drafting responses to a pile of interview questions and doing mock sessions. And I’ve learned from early missteps that we need to talk through the rationale and hidden agendas behind every sample question from his list before he answers them. Per usual, he’s balked at this activity for the more than a year, despite my nagging, but the preparation he did for the visa interview showed him what can be achieved if you do your homework. But as the two of us discuss why “fun” might not be the best single word to describe himself on the Y-FM internship application, I’ll be making sure that I inject more fun into my own life. Because to borrow from an old commercial: “I’m worth it.”
Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!