The Short Happy Life of Graham K. Philp Jr., D.D.S.

Living your dreams is living well.

gk on April 9, 2013 in Personal About a 4 minute read.

I gotta little story for ya. Actually, Hemingway does. If you have never heard of or read it, you should check out The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (http://www.uta.fi/FAST/US1/REF/macomber.html). It’s a short story, a really quick read. Definitely make a note to read it you haven’t already.

Great stuff. I’ve been a fan of Hemingway since I first read one of his sentences, and of his short stories in particular. My buddy Parand (http://xpenser.com) and I were talking the other day, and he asked me why I cared so much about starting my own company. Why I cared so deeply and so passionately about ultimately creating my own products. I’ve thought about that before, and the answers always run deep. Steve Jobs says “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”, and I think that’s a wonderful way to put it. It is our way to live on, to live with impact, to leave a legacy. But, another way to explain it is the way Hemingway did in his short story.

My own Dad had a short happy life. He became a dentist, but never wanted to be one. He had many passions: golf, art, invention, drawing & sketching, crafting, but dentistry was never among them. He was essentially forced to become a dentist by his parents when he could not get into medical school. I’m sure he feared them. Feared rejection, feared being on the wrong side of convention. So he toiled for years. As a dentist. It did not go well.

Superficially, it seemed to… for a while, anyway. From the outside, anyway. But he was never happy. He probably never fully admitted even to himself just how unhappy he was, but it is painfully clear in retrospect. He was one of those people who can be happy in the eddies, the distractions, but not in the flow. The only happiness he found in dentistry was in doing his own lab work, where he could sculpt beautiful, realistic wax bicuspids and cast them in polished gold. He spent his free time chasing his dreams on golf courses and the driving range.

But the lab work that he loved to do himself had taken its toll (most dentists outsource all their lab work as they should; it’s cautionary to think of my dad sculpting away in his lab the same way I sometimes love to craft code). He developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. He had surgery. 

After a decade or so of running a successful practice in Michigan, he decided to move to Texas to pursue a specialization in prosthodontics. He was fairly open about his real motivations for moving which had very little to do with dentistry and had everything do with being able to play golf year-round. 

In the course of his training, my parents divorced. He remarried and tried to open a prosthodontics practice. It floundered and he tried to open a second office in Austin. There was much unpleasantness. 

In time both practices failed. Bankruptcy was declared and a second divorce followed. He took his now arthritic cut-up wrists and made a Walter Mitty like run at the Senior PGA Tour. Eventually, he was living on disability and I saw first-hand how devastatingly soul-killing a handout can be. Much more unpleasantness followed. Ultimately, he was living with his parents and making minimum wage cutting meat in a grocery deli. He was 61. I kid not — these are dark places.

Like Macomber, I see that my dad spent most of his life in fear. But like Macomber, he did not stay afraid. Like Macomber he ultimately faced his demons… 

He began consulting for a large dental clinic. He helped setup their labs, and trained their lab techs in all the procedures he had honed over the years. He took out old drawings and papers and began playing with ideas. He convinced some partners at the firm to back him in his own venture. He had some ingenious ideas for creating revolutionary tooth-whitening products.

Bang! He had a twinkle in his eye. He would talk for hours and hours and work far longer than that. He designed packaging and made calls and ran trials and wrote insert copy and flew all over the country and filed patents and appeared in an infomercial. He drove folks nuts with his mania. He created another company on the side. He was on fire. He was creating his legacy - his dent. He was actually alive. 

The product became Luster Tooth Whitening. I was in Walgreens just last night, and his legacy is there. Luster Premium White System $39.99 - there is my dad winking from the shelves. He died exactly 7 years ago today. He was 64. He had his happy life. That’s why we create.

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