Washougal author rethinks ‘American dream’

Kevin Howard's new book takes a closer look at Americans' most cherished values

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Washougal resident Kevin Howard's first book, Onward, At Last: A Tome on Behalf of our Progeny, published in July and is available for purchase on (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

For 40 years, Kevin Howard strived to achieve the typical American dream. He had a wife and children, a well-paying job, a nice house, fancy cars and other “toys.” Basically, he had attained the ideal middle-class life.

But he wasn’t happy.

“I was on the way to a stroke at 40,” said Howard, a Washougal resident. “I was doing everything society would expect from me, and yet I found myself empty, and I didn’t understand why. Why wasn’t I fulfilled? Why wasn’t I satisfied? Why wasn’t I content? Why wasn’t I happy? Something was missing.”

In 2005, Howard embarked on a mission of self-reflection to find that missing piece. His journey is chronicled in his first book, Onward, At Last: A Tome on Behalf of our Progeny, which was released in physical and digital form in July and on audiobook in September.

In the book, Howard proposes and responds to a central thesis: What if the barrier to Americans’ fulfillment is their most cherished values of independence, freedom, self-interest and competition?

“Those principals are good, but if you take things to the extreme, they don’t function,” he said. “The problem is that’s not how we exist every day. We’re entirely interdependent. We’re not independent. We are aspiring for what’s not true. Every good day that we have is because a boatload of people did what they were supposed to do for our mutual benefit. This is how we need to think about each other. My point is that we won’t get back on track again unless we reconsider these virtues.”

Howard believes that humanity’s best chance to thrive as a species is to attain collective consciousness that eschews competition and helps people hone their skills to reach their potential. He hopes that by reading his book, people can learn that “we’re not alone, we’re truly connected, and that that’s a good thing. That’s our strength.”

“The role that we play in each other’s lives is undeniably verifiable. All we have to do is realize that,” he said. “You can think about, ‘How do I exist?’ The person that made your food. The person who constructed your house. Do you ever think about those people? Do they mean anything to you? This is what society and culture have turned into – us versus. them. Getting back to how we exist blows a hole in that and shows that the stranger is not your enemy. Once you realize this, you start making different choices, and your life starts to change.”

A review of the book posted to called Howard “a skilled writer.”

“In 72 pages, he covers a tremendous amount of territory, communicating complex concepts clearly and simply,” the review states. “In an era where deception and chaos have eclipsed truth and logic, Kevin Howard’s humility and clarity are a welcome respite.”

Howard, 54, was born and raised in New York City, and after graduating from high school spent four years in Germany as a member of the United States Army.

“It was heady times being in Europe. It was fun,” Howard said. “(President Reagan) put the M1 and the M2 (tanks) across Europe, and the balance of power shifted back to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization versus the old Warsaw pact. That was a great time to be in Europe. I learned a lot.”

He left the Army in 1987 and enrolled in the University of Houston, where he studied economics and political science. He then earned a law degree from the University of Connecticut.

“But I never practiced law,” he said. “I wanted to be an investment banker, but those people work 100 hours a week. The only thing that stopped me from going to Wall Street was (the desire to see) my family.”

Instead, he took a job as a disaster assistance loan officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then transitioned into the banking industry. He lived in Georgia for a short time before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, where he stayed for 22 years before moving to Washougal with his wife, Nikole, in June 2019.

He currently works as a risk manager for U.S. Bank.

“We love it. This was a dream for us to come to the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “We love the Gorge. To just drive east on Highway 14 and see the incredible forestry and beautiful Columbia River is so majestic. We love the Pacific Coast. We love the diversity of this area, from the mountains to forests to rivers to lakes to (the proximity to) great American cities. We love it in so many different ways.”

And now, thanks to the discoveries that he’s made in the past 14 years, he’s closer than ever to attaining the “American dream” that previously eluded him.

“Once I went through this process, I started to remember who I am,” he said. “I feel completely fulfilled because I have a sense of purpose now. I feel this truth about how I see people and the role that we play in society, and it’s fueling me to try to help others. Not because I’m smarter than anyone else. I just happened to realize it. It was already in me. It wasn’t a philosophy. I didn’t learn it in school. It was innate to who I am.”