Ten years ago this spring, Mtuseni’s father packed up and left. I don’t know much about the situation, and I’ve never written about him before. Truth be told, Samuel Mdletshe doesn’t figure highly in my mind.
But every now and then I think, “What kind of man does that to his son?” My response tends to be that he’s not a man at all.
For Samuel didn’t just abandon 16-year-old Mtuseni. He left his wife and two younger kids under age five. An older son, Moses, left with Samuel. I’ve seen photos of Mtuseni and Moses together as kids; they looked like typical, boisterous, happy, close brothers.
Mtuseni told me that he wanted to go with Samuel, but his father refused. Maybe he could only manage one kid. Or maybe he thought Mtuseni could help his mom with the little ones. To this day, Mtuseni doesn’t really know what happened. His parents fought a lot. One day Samuel left and took his brother, but not him. It’s rejection, pure and simple. Mtuseni doesn’t talk or think about it anymore, but I know he still hurts somewhere deep inside.
But where one door closes…
Several months after Samuel left, Mtuseni and I were introduced and began our mentoring sessions. And ten years later, he calls me dad. It’s been a decade of absolute joy — and hard work. Through every minute with him, all the highs and lows, I feel incredibly blessed and lucky.
For Mtuseni is truly special — and I’m not someone who’s easily impressed. He’s curious, articulate, spirited, funny, caring, responsible, driven, and sweet. I adore him. I will say that my attention and support have helped Mtuseni become the fine person he is today, but much of it is just innate qualities he has, a spark he was born with.
When Mtuseni wows me with some insight on life … or talks about making a difference in the world … or cackles with his infectious laugh, I sometimes think about what Samuel is missing out on. So I circle back again to wonder… “How does a father walk away from an amazing kid like this?”
The idealist in me wants to find some way to give Samuel the benefit of the doubt. That maybe he figured his family would fare better without him. After all, I’ve been able to offer Mtuseni many beneficial experiences that were beyond his family’s reach. By comparison, Moses died a few years after he left with Samuel — hit by a car while crossing a highway, drunk and unemployed and adrift, yet another tragic South African statistic.
But Samuel couldn’t foresee the divergent paths for his sons. Their lives were not a factor in his decision. Samuel didn’t walk away to give his kids a better shot. He just walked away.
So I feel no sympathy when I have some heart-filling experience with Mtuseni. Samuel’s selfishness is his loss… and my profound gain.
Mtuseni was a boy when his father left. Today, he’s a better man than his father. That’s one thing that I do understand.