Ten years ago, after being an elder care companion and volunteering at gay senior luncheons, I wanted a more youthful aspect to my next volunteer experience. And something that might expand my picture of the world a bit.
Little did I know the universe would introduce me to Mtuseni – a South African
teen young man who’s become the biggest and best part of my life. What began as brief, weekly webcam chats with a high school kid has expanded into daily text conversations, phone calls, photos… visiting him in Johannesburg in 2012… and his first trip abroad to Boston and New York in 2013.
Like any 20-something, Mtuseni is funny, serious, insecure, brash, bright, foolish, and filled with hope for the future. Unlike his American peers, he lives without electricity in a windowless cinder-block shack with his mom and two young siblings. Against incredible odds, he’s working to build a better life for himself and the family.
When Mtuseni first told me of his dreams to attend college, I promised to cover all his expenses. Little did I know that writing checks would be the easy part! I guided him through a rough first year, family tragedies, and the jagged emotions of a kid stretching far past his comfort zone. Shepherding a young man through life is hard enough to manage face-to-face; imagine doing so via text message across 8,000 miles — and with no experience!
But we’ve made it. Mtuseni graduated from college and then completed a ten-month program as a Youth Service Leader with City Year in Johannesburg. He’s always wanted to help make a difference in South Africa — and he loved the experience!
Somewhere along this unlikely journey, these two strangers from very different worlds grew to become father and son. The relationship has been life-changing for both of us. As I helped Mtuseni become a man — he’s done the same for me.
This blog shares many stories of the past few years with Mtuseni: the highs and lows, victories and failures … on each side. I’m also pitching a Long-Distance Dad book to tell our story in detail, and to hopefully inspire others to make a difference in a young person’s life — whether down the street or around the world.