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A Tribute to My Father
By Jason Godin

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines human virtues as “firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith” (1804). The cardinal virtues that are the hinges of all the others are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

In my final column, I’d like to acknowledge one of the first teachers of the faith in my life, an individual who still shows me how to strive toward living the four cardinal virtues consistently: my father.  

Prudence “disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.” It is considered the “charioteer of the virtues” because it “guides the other virtues” by serving as an immediate help to our conscience as we act every moment of our lives (1806). I believe that my father displays this virtue most vividly when he decides and then acts only after considering fully the situation before him. What I have come to recognize as I get older is that my father practices prudence by evaluating the righteousness of the decision-making process, just as much as he does the final decision itself. 

Justice “consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.” It “disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good” (1807). I find that my father displays what I call this “Greatest Commandment virtue” best when he volunteers to count the Sunday collection at his parish. Many times he tabulates the money alone, where only he knows how much a family contributed. A less just man might be tempted not only to gossip about the family donation amounts, but to seek an opportunity to take some of the money. Sadly, the news is littered with instances in which people took advantage of such opportunities. My father is not counted among them. 

Fortitude, or courage, “ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.” It “strengthens the resolve to resist temptation” and “to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (1808). I find my father displays this virtue in his job as an accountant. A combination of national economic decline and corporate reshuffling forced my father’s employer to increase his workload and cut his pay. My father sat initially through many meetings as other executives cut employees with whom he had worked for decades. Even over the phone, I heard in his voice how much it all hurt. To date, I am sure there are many days when the urge to leave the job is great. Yet he never complains. He not only marches onward, but he prays. He prays to God for those former employees and for courage and perseverance in the face of mountainous occupational tasks ahead.       

Temperance “moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses” and “provides balance in the use of created goods.” It “ensures the will’s mastery over instincts” and “keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable” (1809). Temperance comes pretty naturally for my father, outside of watching too much television some nights, to the chagrin of my mother. For example, he is a tall, handsome man but doesn’t flaunt it by choosing to buy expensive clothing or accessories. I think it has a lot to do with growing up in the perennially poorest county in Wisconsin. Like my paternal grandfather, I have never seen my father waste anything he purchased from a store.   

I don’t know if my father is a saint, but I do know he is a virtuous man by his words and actions. My wife and I named our 1-year-old son after my father, in part as a tribute to how he lives elements of our Catholic faith. And as my toddler son runs with his arms extended toward my outstretched arms for a hug, as I did to my father in my youth, I pray that I model the cardinal virtues for my boy as well as my father still does for me.

Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.  He is a Third Degree Knight in Colonel Walter Parsons Council 3205 in College Station, Texas.  He lives with his wife, daughter, and son in College Station.