My father seldom took my brothers and me to movies.
A child of the Depression, my father hated spending money on entertainment. A schoolteacher, he preferred to spend his free time outdoors working on the house and his wooden sailboat – and that’s what he thought children should do, too.
But he did take us to one movie that, 50-plus years later, still teaches us what a good man and a good father should be.
That’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the film set in 1932 in a town that looked much like Monroeville, Ala., where the book’s author, Harper Lee, was raised.
I watched it again the other day and was reminded of the greatness of a quiet man, Atticus Finch, who tended to his children and his business, knowing when to pick his fights and when to stand up for his family and do what was right even when it wasn’t popular.
It’s a good movie to see if you’re a guy who wants to brush up on Dad 101 and get some good parenting tips.
When a cranky old lady snarled at his children, Finch, played by Gregory Peck, didn’t snap back. Instead, he showed empathy and chatted up the woman, complimenting her on her fine garden.
He told his children, Scout and Jem, to stop spying on reclusive neighbors, the Radleys, and let them live in peace. And even though it was the Depression and he was poor, Finch, a lawyer, was quick to remind his kids that farmers had it much tougher than town folks like them.
Finch, a widower, could have shipped his children off to relatives, as was the custom for many widowers in those days. Instead, he came home to have lunch with them every day and he read stories to them at night. And he didn’t get worked up about typical children’s stunts like Jem’s refusal to come down from a tree unless his father agreed to play football for a church team.
At the same time, he killed a menacing rabid dog with a single shot; his kids were amazed to hear another man say their father was the best shot in the county. And he took a controversial case, defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. He even stood guard single-handedly outside the jail to protect his client from a would-be lynch mob.
Finch’s character is an excellent role model for fathers young and old, especially in this era when so many people say parents abdicate their responsibilities and fail to raise their children properly.
Most men don’t set out to be lousy fathers. Maybe some of them had poor models when they were kids – absentee fathers, drunken dads, potheads, workaholics or worse.
It’s hard to be a good father – not as hard as it is to be a good mother, perhaps, but still it’s hard. There are careers and divorces, troublesome in-laws, unrealistic expectations, and all sorts of temptations, such as the mistake of trying to keep up with the Joneses in a materialistic community.
But good dads don’t have to be lawyers with a dead eye for shooting rabid dogs.
They just have to stick around, spend time with their children and try to set good examples.
Doing these jobs doesn’t make just the children better. They make the man better, too.
August 2014 Splash!