TORONTO - Most people don't make headlines for writing mortgage cheques, but a payment made by a 23-year-old Canadian has recently vaulted him to digital stardom.
Aba Atlas saved his entry-level military salary for two years in order to pay down the mortgage on his mother's Ottawa home. His years of frugality culminated in an emotional presentation that he captured on video and posted to YouTube.
The "Dear Mother" clip has garnered 1.6 million views in the four days since it appeared online, a reaction that took its creator entirely by surprise.
"When I put it together, I didn't think it would blow up like this," Atlas said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. "I'm humbled by the response and I think it's good that positive energy is going everywhere, but I don't want to make it seem like it's about me."
The true focus of the video should be his mother, Atlas said, noting the gift she's enjoying now doesn't compensate for the grief she's experienced over the years.
Atlas said his mother -- who he declined to name -- came to Canada from Eritrea more than 20 years ago and has toiled as a hotel housekeeper to make ends meet for her five children.
Atlas said he added to her burdens in his teenage years. He dabbled in drugs and alcohol, joined the military against his parents' wishes and even dropped out of his family's life around the time he turned 18.
When he resurfaced two and a half years later, Abbas said his mother greeted him with a smile, an offer of food and a total lack of recriminations for his long neglect.
"It doesn't matter how long you're gone, family's family. That's the kind of relationship we have," he said.
The importance of that bond was reinforced months later when his father died unexpectedly at the age of 56. Atlas said the loss forced him to re-examine his own life and commit to making some wholesale changes.
He swore off booze and drugs, took up new hobbies such as dance and decided to do something that would compensate his mother for her sacrifices.
Scrounging a mortgage payment on the annual $30,000 salary of a Canadian army private was not an easy feat, but Atlas said the task was made easier by the fact that he was living rent-free in a military barracks. His army lifestyle also kept food costs to a minimum.
Still, Atlas said he passed on car ownership, eschewed restaurant meals and gave up other small perks in order to bring his plan to fruition. He declined to share the exact dollar amount necessary to pay down the mortgage.
"You just make sacrifices here and there, find out what's important and just make the choice," he said.
Atlas presented his mother with the mortgage cheque -- he didn't want to disclose the amount -- on April 30, his birthday.
The video capturing that moment shows his mother opening the envelope in near silence, murmuring "wow" and exclaiming that he's done too much before exchanging a tearful embrace with her son.
The timing of the gift was no coincidence, Atlas explained at the end of the video.
"I want to celebrate my life by celebrating the woman who gave me life." Atlas said his mother is delighted to be free of a financial burden, but said she plans to keep working for at least a few more years.
Atlas himself said the satisfaction he felt after helping his mother has been enhanced by public reaction to his video.
"I know a lot of people do things for their parents all over the world and may not post it online or what not," he said. "A lot of people emailed me telling me, 'I went home and I told my mom how much I loved her.' I'm grateful for that."