Atticus Finch is my hero

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.

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15 comments

  1. Love the first blog , and I too struggle to leave the dysfunctional upbringing behind. I see it in my reactions daily. I also realize these flaws which may be different from the generation before us. I often tell myself they did the best they could but in the back of my mind I think I hope my best is better. Thanks for sharing!!

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  2. Michael,

    Believe it or not I read TKaM for the very first time last year. No idea how I missed it (and me an English major too). It was an amazing experience, even, maybe even especially, as an adult and father myself.
    I don’t know what I was expecting from the book, Even though it was fairly simple, it was quite profound, and I can see how it would be a touchstone.
    My wife and I watched the movie together after I read it and Gregory Peck was brilliant, That’s a pretty amazing first date. A pretty good sign it was meant to be.

    Keep up the good work, you make me want to run up and give my kids a hug (but it’s the middle of the night and I’m not about to wake them!)

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  3. so proud of you!! I wanted a Scout but lost my battle too!! Your courage & honesty truly inspires me! Keep going and stick your path!! cant wait to see whats to come!

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  4. Just another reason to love you, Michael Trainer ! This is going to be wonderful to read ! Congrats on “skydiving” in your own way ! Proud to call you “friend” !

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  5. This was a very nice read.
    It begs me to question who is my Atticus and wonder the same of others. Is it someone you know or a fictional character?
    I keep returning to Tom Joad / Henry Fonda from Grapes of Wrath. To me, he was Atticus with more demons.

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    1. Brian, I agree – nice read. You also have my head spinning re: narrowing down and labeling my heroes. I usually mention Atticus myself when we write about heroes in my classes, but now that the floor has been opened up again…
      Hmmm

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  6. Michael your prose style is wonderful~I especially enjoyed your honesty, wit and self-reflection. I love the name Dadicus Grinch.

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  7. Great blog Mike! Everything you’ve said in your opening about the book, the movie adaptation, Gregory Peck is spot on. Also my hero, an unattainable stature but one worthy of attempting every day. My mom met Gregory Peck in the 60s walking down a street in Manhattan. She was with my dad and some friends and he was with Kirk Douglas and his wife. My mom ran over to him to tell him how much she loved his work and get his autograph, and he bowed to her and told her what an honor it was for him to meet her. She’ll never forget that and neither will I. He was class personified. Regarding your thoughts on Atticus as a fathe; for as much as I know my dad loved us, he never really showed it physically. I kiss my kids every day, on the head or on the cheek, and I tell them that I love them, so they never have to guess. I look forward to reading more of your stuff Mike! I miss our days teaching sometimes. All the best to you and Pam and the kids! – David

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  8. Mikey – You know I love TKAM as well – one of the many things we connect on. I also love Atticus as well as Dadicus – proud of you!!! Great job!

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  9. I found this post while looking for the name Atticus. I named our golden retriever Atticus yes, after Gregory Peck in this book and we’re getting a second one who will be named “Scout” as well.

    Mary Badham played “Scout” in the movie and all during that movie she referred to Gregory Peck both off and on screen as “Atticus” They remained close friends for the remainder of Mr. Peck’s life. She called him Atticus until the day he died. It’s a FINE name. I love it!

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