Above: Father and son Robert Houghtaling and Bob Houghtaling in 2011.
My dad was a paint salesman. He was also a Marine, Black Belt in karate, performer in musicals, deacon at his church and a proud American. Most of all my father was a great husband, parent, and friend. He died this past August, and while his family grieves, lessons learned from Robert W. Houghtaling carry on into the future.
To be clear, Dad had more natural talent in his thumb than I have in my entire body. Times, circumstances, and obligations led him in directions that did not allow room for college where he would have shined. We lived in a small house. He worked 70+ hours per week to keep us going. With all of this said, my mom, sister, and I had great lives. Growing up in such an environment was a phenomenal gift.
I learned that you do not always get what you want. I learned that doing your job, whatever it is, can be honorable. I also learned that you can acquire new knowledge every day (my dad began taking karate at 56 and earned 3rd Degree Black Belt status). These gifts have traveled with me throughout the years. They are ingrained in my approach to the world.
We argued. We disagreed. We also became best friends. There was never a time when I felt that sucking up to Dad was necessary. Speaking truth to power was considered a way of honoring that authority. Throughout all of this he laughed – in fact, there was a strong child inside the man. He took his mission seriously, but never himself.
Dad would have been 92 on Nov. 25. He extolled the notion of being who you are – no matter who you were with. He never felt less or better than.
So, as we enter the holiday season, here’s to those in our lives who teach us lessons beyond measure. Many gifts come in packages with bows – others can’t be contained in a box. These treasures are with us always. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. I love you Dad. See you soon.
Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program, a mental health counselor, and poet.