Archives For mentoring

Wake-Up Call

March 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Boston+Fire+Dept+logoI was watching news coverage of the death of two Boston firefighters in the Back Bay this week. That’s always a sad situation; it can be easy to take for granted that putting your life on the line is part of their job description every day. My roommate in the 1980s dated a Boston firefighter for a while. We were amazed at the difficult things he was expected to do. I couldn’t even walk ten feet with the amount of equipment they carry and wear on the job — today or back then! Never mind entering a burning building.

During a profile of one firefighter, they said he’s been a Big Brother to a teen for seven years. They did an interview with the boy, and I kind of lost it. I know firsthand how special and meaningful that bond can be, especially to the kid. And it made me think about the impact on Mtuseni if anything happened to me.

I worked with a client a few years back who is an estate attorney, and casually asked about the process of making Mtuseni my beneficiary. His being a foreign national means it’s complex and costly. It wasn’t high on my radar, but even then I’d been feeling a larger sense of responsibility for him and his future. Still, getting him through college was the top priority so I never followed through on estate issues. Besides, who wants to think about that stuff?

Watching this 14-year-old kid talk about the loss of his Big Brother — and the love they shared — was a wake-up call for me. I may not be out fighting fires, but we all know anything can happen at any time. And seeing how Mtuseni depends on me, I would never want him to be left wanting if I was gone. So I’ll add estate planning to my schedule … because when someone calls you “dad,” that’s just what you do.

Thoughts and prayers for the firefighters, their families and that poor teenage boy. Boston Strong.

And if you want to help a kid who needs some support, check out the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization. It will change two lives for the better.


Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!

 

Rounding the Turn

November 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

South Africa matric resultsIt’s hard to believe that three years ago this week Mtuseni was starting his national matric exams to graduate from high school and hopefully score high enough to qualify for tertiary school. We had also just ended our weekly webcam sessions as his nonprofit program was shut down — and were entering the uncharted waters of a mentoring relationship conducted mainly through phone texts. I’d told him a few weeks earlier that I would pay for his college and was in it for the long haul, but in the back of my mind lurked an understanding that it could all be a lot shorter than my idealistic visions. If he failed his matrics, it could be over in a few weeks.

And now here we are — in the closing days of Mtuseni’s final semester.

We’ve weathered many storms along the way. Like the grade of 20 on his first college test, which shocked him and made me think “Uh-oh.” The lonesome first semester that Mtuseni called “the darkest days of life,” when my shy little man had no friends in school and wanted to quit. The meltdown failure in his Excel class, which led to the out-of-the-blue savior of Jacquie’s weekend class and her continuing support for both him and me. And the ongoing money challenges, health scares, and family tragedies which I’ve learned come with the territory of Mtuseni’s life in poverty.

When you live in an environment that has little understanding of your experience and aspirations, it can lead to self-doubt, insecurity, and second-guessing. Mtuseni’s mom doesn’t ask about school, only whether he passes each semester. People in his settlement community seem to resent his new life experiences and wider circle. And the complex dynamics of racism — which are slowly being revealed to me as layers peel back — take a toll on him. I’ve given him so many pep talks there should be a varsity sweater and set of pom-poms in my closet. Still, I was surprised when early this year Mtuseni said he wanted to switch majors to journalism for his last year. He’s a good writer (when he applies himself — ahem!) and writing can be a valuable skill in so many career paths. But his dream since our early webcam sessions was to work in radio.

When I asked why he wanted to switch, Mtuseni said he was nervous about learning the Pro Tools and Logic sound editing software, and felt more comfortable and safe doing writing. I acknowledged his writing ability, but assured him he could learn the software; it was no different from his early confusion learning PowerPoint. I told Mtuseni that the decision on a major was entirely his to make, and I’d support him either way. But that the important thing was to not make a decision based on fear and doubt. To ask himself honestly what his dream was — not his fear — and to act on that. A couple days later he decided to stay on track with radio.

He’s been a busy bee this semester — resulting in almost total “radio silence” with me the past few weeks. His class did a Hell Week assignment where they “ran” a live radio station within the school. This week Mtuseni was assessed by his instructor as he worked in the booth. Today he did a group presentation, “applying” for a new radio station license from ICASA — South Africa’s version of the FCC. The group just needs to record the application’s sample programs and they’re finished. Then I think he takes his Entrepreneurship exam in a week or so, and is all done with classes.

We still have a lot of work ahead. Mtuseni needs to do an internship before graduating in June. (Anyone with leads in the Johannesburg radio industry is free to review Mtuseni’s LinkedIn profile and make contact.)

But most of the hard work is finished. And Mtuseni, of course, did the vast majority of it. I just paid the bills, cracked the whip, and shook those pom-poms. He sent me some pics a few weeks ago taken during Hell Week. Whenever I see Mtuseni’s bright smile in any photo, my heart simultaneously swells and melts. But given our journey these past few years, this smile just feels a bit more special.

Boston+Media+House+radio

Boston+Media+House+radio

 

Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!


Helping a teenager navigate the ups and downs of life is hard enough when he lives down the hall. It’s a lot tougher when the kid is half a world away. Somehow, I’ve been able to help Mtuseni get where he is today…relatively confident and mature as he settles into his last year of college and sets his sights on the future.

It hasn’t been easy. Often an idea that might benefit Mtuseni — which could be implemented easily in the United States — begins in South Africa with a disjointed Google search followed by persistence, resourcefulness, and my varying degrees of patience. Due to a mix of culture and systemic issues, things down there don’t happen as quickly as this do-it-yesterday Northeasterner would prefer. Yet eventually the mountain moves.

But I haven’t done it all on my own. I’ve been lucky to encounter some people in South Africa who have been allies in my mission to create a better life for Mtuseni. Through some sort of miracle that I still don’t understand, this blog connected me with a woman named Jacquie. Reading about Mtuseni’s struggles in his Excel class last year, she wrote and mentioned a weekend program she coordinates, offering free computer classes. Despite rolling his eyes when I first told him of the program, Mtuseni thoroughly enjoyed it — building up his spreadsheet skills and his confidence.

johannesburg+excel+training+class

Mtuseni and his Saturday morning Excel classmates

Beyond the class, Jacquie has provided other support for Mtuseni, and he values her as a role model in the professional world. For me, she has offered an insider’s perspective when South African logistics have me tearing my hair out– and been a welcome sounding board when a certain illogical, moody teenager drives me mad. And after hearing from Mtuseni about disapproving stares we received from whites when I was with him in Johannesburg, it’s encouraging for me to know that not all white South Africans harbor outdated attitudes about race.

So hats off to Jacquie for her commitment and contributions to my long-distance son. It truly does take a village — either around town or across hemispheres — to raise a kid.

Be sure to stop by Jacquie’s blog and check out her beautiful photography! And tip your hat to her. She’s earned it many times over.


Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!

Mational Mentoring Month

I’m a bit late to the party, but I just learned that January is National Mentoring Month in the US. Click the logo to visit the program web site and find local mentoring opportunities in your area.

To quote from the National Mentoring Month web site:

“To be a mentor, you don’t need special skills, just an ability to listen and to offer friendship, guidance and encouragement to a young person. And you’ll be amazed by how much you’ll get out of the experience.”

I can certainly attest to this. I am continually amazed by where my journey with Mtuseni has taken us, and by how much we both have grown. My involvement and investment have expanded beyond the basics of just “being there” as a mentor to become more father, nag, coach, and benefactor. But on the rare occasions when my South African son gets a little lazy or petulant or veers far off course, I remind him to think about what mentoring is all about… and he snaps right into line.

Funny… just the other day, before I knew about mentoring month and after a tough but ultimately fruitful conversation with Mtuseni, he posted this status line on his Mxit chat program:

mentor thank god

Mentoring can be hard work sometimes. It can also be pretty amazing. And make people feel invincible.

 


Follow and share updates about the Long-Distance Dad book project on Facebook!