Letter to my dad about “owning” a business

This is a recent letter I wrote to my father. It’s just a rambling thank you, really, but it relates directly to doing what we’re doing with community acupuncture.

Hey Daddio.

 Thinking about you lots these days.
‘Course it’s partly because I’m trying to fit into my father suit
(with Amy 10 weeks or so away from giving birth). But, I’ve been
thinking about you just as much because of work.

A couple things recently have been
making me appreciate being a business owner, and reflect on the ways
you were one. I think of my work as just doing acupuncture, and that
it’s as much about getting out of the way and letting the universe
work as it is about filling up the space with some skill. And, our
whole way of inviting people in and doing our job is kind of about
de-emphasizing the *Professional*, and highlighting the simple in
what we’re doing and the importance of the whole room of people. I
think of our business as an expression of this neighborhood and this
city that I’m lucky enough to be able to work in the center of and
get paid a little by.

In these ways, I usually think of
myself more as an activist/acupuncturist* than as a business owner.
But, of course, it’s true that Ellen and I DID start this business.
And, we DO “own it”. Like you started and owned your architecture
business, with your partners. I’m appreciating how your work, too,
was about putting together a bag of tools (technical and creative)
from teachers both contemporary and ancient and then learning how to
use them to get out of the way and let humans do what they do best in
their own skins and shelters.

When I was a boy, your owning a
business looked attractive because you clearly loved what you were
doing. You loved the people you got to work with. It looked like they
really loved you. I had no idea how hard you worked, or really how
little money you were actually making given the work you were doing,
because we were eating and I loved my family and friends, and life
was good. You seemed to know everyone in the city. I remember you
running into the mayor and talking to him. I also remember running
around at ribbon cutting ceremonies or during constructions at new
health centers and renovated schools while you talked to neighbors or
a school custodian.

At the time I didn’t know the kind of
struggles you faced as someone trying to create quality affordable
housing and health facilities in the same areas which were slated by
the city for “slum clearance” in the long, institutionally-racist
aftermath of the civil rights era. I just enjoyed running amok with
other kids and being around hopeful adults. Now, I know the kids I
swung and spun with on a playground on the Near Northside were the
children of Panthers and other activists, the same folks who stood
with you in that same spot 5 or 6 years before listening to Bobby
Kennedy bring news of MLK’s assasination, and trying not to explode.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, too,
40 years later. And, I’m glad I’ve found (largely because of your
modeling of how to connect with people who want to do something big)
a growing group of people committed to justice and ending classism
and racism in their own lives.

But, sometimes I forget, probably like
you did, that what I’m doing makes a difference. Sometimes, I’m just
working. I spend 10 minutes or less with every returning patient and
20 with every new patient, before they fall off to relaxation. The
room is usually full of people. So, if people want to show some kind
of appreciation, they have to figure out how to do it with a facial
expression or a few short whispered words. Yesterday, though, my
first patient was really early and my next two were very late, so
there I was taking my time with my first patient. And, she started
thanking me. I’ve been treating her for 2 years, and we’ve built up a
lot of trust between us, so I decided to go ahead and try to really
listen to her appreciations until she was done.

She kept going for 15 minutes. And,
none of it was fluff. She said very specific things about the skills
she noticed me using and the ways the clinic was changing her life.
I’m doing better these days at getting over my feeling that I’m not
good enough. Interactions like these help, when, sometimes, just the
facts of people’s healing don’t convince me. I CAN tell sometimes
that my treatments are getting better and better. I can almost always
tell that what we are offering as an experience is radically good.

It’s been a sweet time in the clinic.
As an expectant father, it’s really great that I’m getting to treat
so many women who are getting pregnant and having babies. We’re
getting shown a lot of appreciation by the moms who are having
natural birthing experiences with help form the acupuncture. Lots of
baby visits at the clinic these days.

I think we’re doing great reaching all
kinds of people. We do seem to struggle to retain working class black
men as returning patients. We’ll keep trying to figure out what we
can do differently, but, of course, it’s mostly about what our own
social networks look like, and mine is still pretty white. I DO like
being forced to look at racism in my own life.

Another thing I’m appreciating right
now is how many older Jews I’m treating. I’ve been trying to
consciously remember that I’m treating the survivors of the
holocaust. I’m honored that I get trusted to this extent with all of
my patients, but it feels somehow even more significant with this
older generation of Jewish folks. I’m treating a man whose main
complaint is his high blood pressure. To have his wife thank us for
“working miracles” with him, and how “he’s a different person”
to be around, well, that’s something. This guy was recommended to us
by his wife. He then researched everything about us, including the
namesake of an award I received for my graduating class. Turns out
he knows someone who knows the person after whom my award was named.
And, even though that individual had absolutely nothing to do with
the anonymously given award, and is apparently more a UFO specialist
than an acupuncturist these days, it’s still a connection, and thats
what counts.

You always said to me that it’s all
about just knowing people and creating good will. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about
your work. I want to get together before the baby comes and have you
remind me of all the projects you worked on over the years, and all
the people with whom you worked. Thank you for all the good you
helped create and the healing you helped happen in your city.

*Check out this tiny little
with a current acupuncturist/activist talking about
grassroots community healthcare in the 60s and 70s.

Author: korben

I'm an acupunk and owner at Kindred Community Acupuncture in Pawtucket, RI. I co-founded Philadelphia Community Acupuncture in 2007, and moved to Providence in 2011 to be close to family after the birth of my son, and to work with the inimitable Cris Monteiro at PCA.

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  1. Though I’m sure you’ve heard this often,

    You two will be such great parents.

    Thanks for sharing and making me and my wife cry as we read your letter together.

  2. You and your Dad must wear the same size shoes.

    You come from a great family with community consciousness and you’re making another great family with a similar consciousness.  Now that’s evolution!

  3. I was almost late to work

    I was almost late to work today because I was having a great phone conversation with my Dad – how sweet to get there and read this letter. 

    Did you read Jane Jacobs yet?

  4. Thanks for such a beautiful post.

    It really helped remind me of the web of influences and connections that have gotten us where we are and that support and sustain us, and how important it is to acknowledge and thank them.