The first time I heard his name, I thought my sons were talking with their mouths full of Froot Loops.
“His name is Shonduras. Can we please subscribe to his YouTube channel?”
“Shon-who-ras?” I probed, and they repeated it with a pair of preteen eyerolls.
My kids know that when it comes to the Internet, they live a sheltered life. Their mom and me approve all new apps, every website in their rotation and all YouTubers they want to follow.
A quick Google search gave me this Internet celeb’s real name: Shaun McBride. Another click offered the explanation; McBride served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Honduras, and the place and the people became a prominent piece of his life puzzle.
When it was time to launch his online career, McBride wanted a catchy way to pay tribute to the country he loves and that molded him in ways he’s still unfolding.
I quizzed the kids on how they’d found him and what his content was all about. They explained that he’d made a guest appearance on another approved channel and they liked what they saw.
I said yes, and soon my boys were hooked on Shonduras’ entertaining, zany antics. While he’s known as the first Snapchat celebrity and consultant with millions of followers, he also posts much of his content to YouTube.
Before long, Shonduras was a topic during driveway basketball games, long car rides and at bedtime. Each day, my kids couldn’t wait to share his latest creation, and the spirit of the 27-year-old Internet star became a regular at our dinner table.
They adored, admired and were legitimately inspired by the chronically effervescent married father of one. Soon my boys were plotting their own YouTube channel with do-it-yourself videos, gaming tips and science experiments.
There was no denying it — my kids were hooked on Shonduras, and I was left to wonder, is this guy for real? Is he really everything he portrays?
Then, a few weeks ago, my wife and I found ourselves planning a last-minute business trip from Virginia to Utah. It was a tight schedule, and we’d be hopping nonstop for 36 hours before taking the red-eye home.
There wouldn’t be much time for anything extracurricular. Or would there?
Late one evening just before we left, knowing Shonduras was based somewhere in Utah, I felt the urge to act on a whim. I hit his website and sent a short note. Was he up for a visit by two curious parents?
By morning, I had a reply and an invitation. And less than a week later, my wife and I knocked on his door and met the real Shaun McBride.
What we saw, heard and felt is that this unique man is much more than a silly online prankster, and his brand is more than a catchy nickname. Because in many ways, he’s still on a mission, even if the black nametag is just a memory.
After introductions to his wife, baby and talented online team, we got a tour of his basement studio, or as his fans know it, his “space station.”
Then came the questions.
“You already know my boys look up to you, they’ve watched every video, laughed at every one of your adventures. But what’s your real story?”
For over an hour, Shonduras described a passion for making people smile and for living each tomorrow as the “best day ever.” From the bottom of his skateboard to his trademark baseball hat, his soul radiates optimism.
“I believe in being positive. Always. All the time. I don’t believe in bad days or bad service or negativity,” he said.
A savvy businessman, Shonduras detailed his hard-fought climb to online stardom. While other well-known celebrities have found themselves famous, often for the wrong reasons, Shonduras created an organic online audience by focusing relentlessly on making people smile.
Over time, he became the first Snapchat celebrity to partner with brands such as Disney, Taco Bell and AT&T. Even with that success, Shonduras promises that his goals aren’t all about using social media simply to find followers. He’s trying to do good by being good.
He avoids profanity, sexual humor and embarrassing others for the sake of traffic. When I asked him what he would want my kids and yours to know about the man behind the user ID, he smiled in a way that cannot be faked or photoshopped.
“I honestly enjoy doing what I do,” he said. “Making people happy? What’s better than that? And that’s what matters most.”
On the topic of faith and the church mission that made him a man, Shonduras prefers not to force his beliefs upon his audience.
“I’d rather show them who I am by how I live my life,” he said. “They know I don’t drink, smoke or swear. They also know my family is much more important to me than anything else.”
Shonduras added that he does not post videos on Sundays and his audience knows why.
“I believe I have formulated a picture of what my faith is through my actions,” he said.
Before we left his home, Shonduras shocked my kids from 2,000 miles away with a lively video chat. He gave them the same tour we’d enjoyed and peppered them with silly questions that had them laughing for a week.
Saying goodbye, Shonduras thanked us for the visit and for doing our due diligence. We thanked him, too, for being a humble example of goodness in an online world that’s often corrupted by smoke and filthy mirrors.
His response? “I’m just having the best day ever.”
Thanks to him, millions of others are, too.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at [email protected].