Atticus Finch is my hero. To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favorite book. Like many before and after me, it was one of the rites of passage of high school English. And like some, it was because of that book that I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. The casting of the Academy-award winning film is probably the best book-to-screen adaptation that I have ever seen. Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch. He (Finch/Peck) is the consummate father, citizen, and lawyer the literary and film world has ever known.
Throughout my life, Atticus Finch has been a touchstone. I reread TKAM while on a train travelling through Europe in college and my esteem for the book was affirmed. I watched the film multiple times with family, friends, and then students, and I continued to be engrossed every time. My wife and I had our first date at a showing of the film in Philadelphia, where Gregory Peck spoke afterwards, and the man who played Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) surprised Peck and the audience onstage. I marveled at the ease of their friendship. I felt privileged to hear them share stories about their mutual friend, the elusive Ms. Lee. That film talk will always be one of my fondest memories (and the fact that that first date became a lifetime certainly rivals it).
My admiration for Atticus Finch continued in the early years of our marriage, when I lobbied hard for any future sons to be named Atticus. My wife gave a resounding “NO!” How about the middle name? My wife: “NO!” How about the dog’s first name? “NO!” I had to settle for it being our yellow lab’s middle name: Rufus Atticus. It certainly gives him an air of distinction. And now, with two sons of my own, I am reminded of Atticus Finch almost daily. He was such a tremendous father, his temperament so even, his tone assured, his knowledge vast, his integrity unwavering. I can never be him. I’d be a fool to even try to match his character. But a man can aspire, and aspire I do. Yet, there are many times I am reminded of just how unlike Atticus I really am: when I lose my temper, when I shout at my boys, when I say something passive aggressive, or huff and puff my way through a chore…
Beyond my own shortcomings, Atticus Finch serves as a lifetime reminder for me as to just how lacking my own father was. My dad tried to be a good man, but he was so broken–so closed off emotionally, so angry. The fact that he had seven children and spent most of his time holed up in his bedroom seemed to emphasize just how shut down he was–my own Boo Radley. So, when I got married, I knew I wanted to have a small family, and I knew I wanted to raise them in a way that I was not raised; in a style that emphasized open love and dialogue. In a way that my children would know why I was doing certain things, or reacting in a certain way. I want a house where love and honor and respect triumph. And as I grapple with this fantasy, and attempt to make it, in-part, a reality, I often think of my hero: my surrogate, literary father, Atticus. I begin this blog in the hopes of reconciling all of the thoughts and ideas that I hold from my experiences in a large, Irish Catholic dysfunctional family, and how those experiences are resurfacing and wreaking havoc, or being laid to rest, as I create my own (hopefully, much more functional) family.
I can never be Atticus Finch–I don’t think anyone can. But maybe I can channel his presence through my persona, my alter ego: Dadicus Grinch. I want to be the kind of man he was, yet I find I am a bundle of contradictons: a friendly curmudgeon, an open-minded critic, a pessimistic optimist, an angry peacemaker… I have the best intentions, but I will always have my demons. Here’s a chance to put some of them to rest.