On Atticus Finch, Nobility, Fatherhood, and Fathers
By Ken K. Gourdin
This post was inspired by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Peg McEntee’s June 15, 2013 column, “Looking for Atticus Finch in my dad,” last accessed on line June 15, 2013 at http://www.sltrib.com/pages/comments?cid=56461938. While the currents against which he has swum perhaps are not as swift as those against which Atticus Finch swam, my father is a lot like Atticus in that, indeed, they both swam against some stiff currents. My father has paid dearly for refusing to “go along to get along” at various critical junctures in his life. But whatever short-term, illusory gains he might have enjoyed had he done so, he decided that such gains weren’t worth sacrificing his self-respect.
My father has told me many times what a shock it was for a small-town Utah kid to be stationed in the South in the military and for him to see a black man coming the opposite direction on the sidewalk divert his course down into the gutter (which had water in it at the time) as he passed my dad. And for a fellow soldier (black) to hitch a ride off post with my dad, to get into the back seat as they left the post, for my dad to ask what he was doing, and to be met with the reply, “If they catch us riding in the front seat together downtown, they’ll take us both to jail.”
I’m not naive. Racism is still alive and well. Do we have a long, long way to go? Most definitely. But thank God we’re not where we were. And as many times as I’ve heard those stories (and others) from him, I’m positive that I’ll wish I could hear them again when he’s no longer around to tell them. (I hope that somehow, they’ve become a part of my DNA.) Is my father perfect? Far from it. Do I sometimes wish he weren’t so stubborn? Perhaps (and I’m sure he feels exactly the same way about me). But that stubbornness is a two-edged sword: if he weren’t so stubborn, he wouldn’t have been able to swim against those stiff currents. Do we have our share of disagreements? Yes.
True, he’s no Atticus Finch, but then, (1) although Atticus’s nobility is alive and well in plenty of real-life flesh-and-blood folks (good fiction should reflect real life on some level, after all), Atticus himself is a fictional character; and (2) by the same token, Atticus Finch is no * *. (And no, for those of you who are wondering, those asterisks don’t represent profanity or vulgarity; they’re simply meant to substitute for my dad’s name. As great as he is, he’s still entitled to his anonymity). Atticus Finch or no, he’s still plenty noble enough to have given me a giant legacy to live up to. I couldn’t imagine having (and which is more, with all due respect to Ms. McEntee, I couldn’t even imagine wanting) any other father.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! (And Happy Father’s Day to all the dads [indeed, to all the men] out there.)