When I was a sophomore in high school, I read for the first time a new novel titled To Kill A Mockingbird. I was so moved by it that, as soon as I finished it, I started reading it over again immediately. Some time later, I saw the film version. Both works introduced me to Atticus Finch.
Some eight years later, I became a father for the first time. I was only 24 and had no idea how to be a father. My own father was a good man but in many ways was not strong presence, having spent much time working. And so I turned to Atticus Finch, especially as portrayed by Gregory Peck, as my role model for fathering.
Atticus was a single parent. Beyond that, he contended with grief from the death of his wife as well as the pressures of his work. Yet he gave his children that most prescious commodity — time. He read with them. He talked with them. He took the time to explain things. And he was affectionate.
I learned other more subtle lessons from Atticus. When explaining why he had taken on a very difficult case, Atticus made it clear that he could not expect his children to listen to him if he did not do what he believed to be the right thing. In other words, Atticus helped me see that part of parenting involved integrity. I needed to try to become the kind of man my children would respect.
Finally, Atticus helped me see that any lessons I had to teach my children would be done not by word but by example. Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson, his self-restraint around Mr. Ewell, his gratitude to Boo Radley were all great lessons to his children and thus to me.
I have been a less than perfect father and, like most parents, have some regrets. But I am grateful that I had Atticus Finch to help me along the way. Thank you, Harper Lee!