Atticus Finch at 50

My favorite book — To Kill A Mockingbird — was published 50 years ago today.

I admit, I saw the film before I read the book way back when. But this worked out well. I didn’t mind having the film characters in my head while I read, and the book just expanded a world and a story with which I’d already fallen in love.

For anyone not familiar with the work, it is a multilayered story of growing up in a small southern town, told from the point of view of Scout, the headstrong young daughter of widowed lawyer Atticus Finch, who must defend a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. The layers author Harper Lee deftly weaves through the book touch on loneliness, poverty, race relations and parenting.

Atticus has a quiet strength of character. He imparts wisdom to his children without preaching. He listens to them and takes the time to thoughtfully answer their questions. He guides them with a firm hand, but never with anger.

He’s also a humble man. After Atticus shoots a rabid dog on their street, his children are surprised to learn from the sheriff that their father is one of the best shots in the county. He’s also fine with accepting whatever compensation his clients are able to afford for his services, even sacks of hickory nuts, all the while being sensitive to the client’s dignity.

And he stands up for what he believes, even if it means risking his life and reputation. When he explains to Scout that he must defend Tom Robinson against the rape charge else he couldn’t hold his head up in town, you also know that he means he could never hold his head up in front of his children if he did not act on his convictions.

I’ve never encountered a stronger, gentler, more centered soul in literature.

Atticus Finch — especially as portrayed in the film version by Gregory Peck — is still a role model for fathers everywhere.

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