There Is a *Big* Difference Between What You Need & What You Want

It is not an exaggeration to say that we come from different worlds. He is a single man from the Congo and I am a father from Los Angeles. We are standing next to each other watching children swim and just talking about life.

He has a fantastic accent that is melodious and full of life. He tells me that he loves the spirit of the children here and I smile. He is talking about all of the kids at the party but he is pointing to my daughter.

We’re almost 9,000 miles from his home. The equator runs through the village he grew up in. You can wear a t-shirt and shorts year round.  I am not 9,000 miles from home. We’re miles away from the home I grew up in. I can walk down the main streets and provide you with forty years of background.

He speaks seven languages. I am humbled by that. I grew up in a house where language was important. I am a Peace Corps baby. My folks met in Ecuador. When we were kids if my parents wanted to have a private conversation they spoke Spanish. We all picked up on it. I learned how to read/write speak Hebrew, but the truth is that my Hebrew has gotten pretty rough.

He speaks seven languages, but I can curse in 12. That counts for something but I am not sure what.


The boy who used to be a baby but is becoming a giant is seated just behind me. We are talking about school and how you figure out what your career is going to be. I look in the rear view mirror and I see him staring intently out the window. There is a Ferarri and a Lamborghini next to us. I have seen these cars many times before. It really isn’t unusual to see them around L.A., but they still catch my eye.

“Dad, how did you figure out what you wanted to do?”

“I am not doing what I want to do. I am doing what I have to do to get there.”

“That is not fair. You are too old to do that.”

“I am not old and life is not fair. It never was and it never will be. Stop waiting for fair because it will never come. If you want something you figure out how to make it happen and then you go get it.”

He nods his head at me and I feel my jaw clench shut. I believe every word I say but sometimes it irks me to see so many around me get so much so easily. There are families at the school who come from money. Someone worked for that but the second or third generation did not. These other parents who I stand with at the soccer games and birthday parties complain about how hard they work and I laugh.

They talk about being irritated by the service or lack thereof at restaurants and resorts I can’t afford and I laugh. When things are just handed to you it is easy to lack gratitude. It is easy not to appreciate them the way you should.

“The first thing you need to do is to figure out what you need versus what you want.”

There is a moment of silence and then he responds.

“Dad, how do you know the difference? Do you know what it is for you?”

“Yes, I know the difference. I know what it is because I have spent a lot of time thinking about it and I have a lot of life experience you don’t have.”

“How do you get life experience?”

“You live.”


Twenty years ago my city burned. I have vivid memories of the L.A. Riots. I have stories. I can tell you about the Northridge earthquake and about the time I was evacuated from a forest fire. I have lots of stories to tell and to share.

My children don’t know them all yet. Some may never be shared. Some won’t be because they just won’t. Kids don’t need to know about all of the crazy things I did in college or earlier.

“Dad, does it ever bother you that Johnny’s dad has a bigger house and a nicer car?”

“Sometimes, but most of the time I don’t care or think about it. Possessions don’t make you happy. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors. Best to focus on yourself. Be a good friend. Be a good brother and be a good son. Figure out what you need and I’ll help you figure out how to get it.”

I believe everything I have said, but now is a harder time. Now is a darker and rougher time. It isn’t as easy to just ignore some things.


The children are laughing and chasing each other around the backyard. We are still talking about life.

“Los Angeles must be a little bit different from the Congo.”

He laughs hard.

“I have been in the US for six years now. I spent the first three on the East Coast. It is much too cold there for me. The world is small and the same but different everywhere. I met white people in South Africa who only spoke Afrikanns. That surprised me. ”

He shares a few more stories, mentions Somalia and shudders.

We are from different worlds but today those places intersect.

This is part of Yeah Write.

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