So the other day — finally — Mtuseni got his laptop fixed after the infamous butt(head) incident of last October. I mean, really, it takes a supreme knucklehead to sit on an almost-new laptop and break the LED screen.
I had warned Mtuseni that buying him a laptop was a one-and-done proposition. If he broke it, lost it, or had it stolen, that was it; there wasn’t going to be another one. I said this merely to put the proverbial fear of god into him, to drive home the message that a laptop isn’t like a wallet (which he left on the bus), or an angel charm (which he lost), or a cell phone (also lost), or knock-off RayBans from Cape Town (stolen/lost). I never thought I’d be faced with following through on my threat, but so goes life with my boy/man.
In reality, I couldn’t stand by the one-and-done principle, because it is impossible in this modern age for a college student to not have a computer. But, man, I was pissed. Mtuseni was achingly apologetic for the mistake, but what lesson would he learn if I just “caved” and fixed the laptop?
Luckily, he got a summer job working as a campus assistant. I talked to the school administrator and found out what it paid (and held my tongue hearing he’d make $10 for a full day). But working for six weeks in January and February, he’d have a decent sum of money — so I told Mtuseni that he would have to contribute to the repair cost (which at R2750 … or about $295 … was almost what I paid for the thing new).
I had a figure in my head for how much he should pay, but I asked him what he thought was fair. Mtuseni and I have differing views on the value of money, clearly reflecting our different financial situations. He’ll freak out over 8 rand, which is only 1 dollar. But this is understandable given his level of poverty. Still, I needed his share of the repair to take a bite — not to punish him for breaking the laptop, but to take some responsibility for it and — here come the parental cliches — to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees and that I’m not an ATM machine. The few little jobs he’s had have always provided him with play money. Working long days on campus only to have it go to fixing the laptop would help him understand the value of money.
Given his perspective, I fully expected Mtuseni to offer about R100 towards the R2750 repair — and for me to counter with a lecture about money and responsibility and other obnoxious dad stuff. So I was stunned and impressed when he offered to pay R1000! For a kid who was in crisis mode last year when his daily taxi fare was raised R4 — 48 US cents — this was a huge sum of money. I didn’t make a big deal out of his offer, but simply accepted it and said it was fair.
(A couple weeks later, when his mom’s salary was reduced from R2000 to R1500 … $168 a month … I cut back Mtuseni’s share of the repair to R500. That’s still about $50 and a week’s pay from his campus job… enough to sting.)
So after a typical SA slow-motion service experience with Asus, Mtuseni finally took the laptop in last week. I wired him my share of the repair fee, and he paid cash and picked it up yesterday. And I woke up to the following message from him on Mxit…
Hey bud, thank you very much for bailing me out. Now I know the feeling of paying up. I feel like u have given me a responsibility. I actuali feel proud.
That response to shelling out a lot of his own money to fix a broken laptop is not something you’d hear from most of today’s spoiled and entitled youth. Set aside the knucklehead stuff that’s rampant among boys his age, and Mtuseni continues to amaze me with his integrity and honor and growing sense of maturity. Was this an expensive lesson? Yes, for both of us. But I think it helped move him another step closer to the upstanding man I know he will be. And, as always, I’m proud of him too.