A couple of weeks ago, my Facebook time line was all up in arms about Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set A Watchman. Many of my friends and acquaintances posted scathing preliminary reviews, refusing to read the book claiming their childhoods have been ruined.
Because I’m sure as you have read already, the beloved Atticus Finch, emotional surrogate farther to many a adolescent reader, is learned to be racist.
It’s been well over a decade since I’ve read To Kill a Mocking Bird, and if I’m honest, Lee’s sequel is not yet on my must read list. I’ll spare you most of the preemptive literary analysis for sake of this post. Though if you’re in the Chicago area and have time, I’d gladly share my options with you over a pint. That being said even weeks after the news broke about the novel, one thing that circling in my head is how upset everyone got about it. The reason being is that a beloved character was discovered to have an unforgivable flaw.
Then it got me thinking. It’s easy to dismiss Atticus because he’s not real. As long as we don’t read Watchman, he technically can be the shining example of how a father should be. But what about someone in real life? How do we love love someone with an unforgivable flaw?
In a Boston suburb, my father is watching my niece play in the living room while he’s on the phone with me. I’m talking to him about work, the upcoming convention I’m attending, along with my recent pay raise.
“I’m really proud of you!” He says to me, a compliment which is typically only reserved for milestone achievements, like graduations.
I pause for a second, basking in the glory of the moment before he continues,
“Now if you could only get a boyfriend, you’d be all set!”
My father has always been a fan of women climbing corporate ladders and breaking glass ceilings. As a child, he would cut out articles in the newspaper about female doctors and politicians, telling me that if I worked really hard, I could be like them. He raised me to be strong, articulate, motivated, and fierce. I understand that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without his guidance, for better and for worse.
But that all goes down the drain whenever my dating gets brought up life. He softens the blow by saying, “I just want you to be happy,” like “joy” and “coupling” are mutually exclusive. He’ll say that he raised me to be too independent, and because of that, I will never find a husband. Mind you, I spent most of my early-mid twenties almost embarrassingly boy crazy, so the fact that I’m devoting all my time and energy into something more lucrative should be a relief. But that’s neither here nor there, because let’s be honest, I’m not getting any younger, right?
So I just laugh it off-not wanting to give his thought the energy.
While I understand the misogyny-lite mentality that my father carries, pales in comparison to racism, I feel like the concept is overall the same. Here is this person who I love and respect, that possesses a belief that is outdated and hurtful. It affects our relationship in ways that he will never be able to understand because he can’t even fathom the notion that he could be wrong. As far as he considered, he’s looking out for his daughter. Maybe he doesn’t see how I can be happy single because he’s never been able to emulate that same behavior. Maybe he doesn’t understand that no one can to take care of me on the level he’d want-not him, not me, and not someone I haven’t met yet.
Regardless, I still love him, though it comes with an asterisk and a wince every time the topic comes up. When he meets my Chicago friends his next visit, I will prep them by saying that his view on women in relationships is kind of archaic, and to just smile and nod, like I have been for the past 5 years or so.
I think that we can still love Atticus for who he was in Mockingbird, because that’s the character we needed him to be when we came of age, as much as we will begrudgingly wince through Watchman.
And I think a lot can be said for that.