On Wednesday, July 27th, at 7:33 in the morning, E and I welcomed Atticus James to the world. He was 7 pounds, 7 ounces, 19 inches long, with a good, strong set of lungs!
Nothing about Atticus’ birth went according to our plan. We entered the hospital on a Sunday evening to begin an induction, something we had planned with our amazing (!) doctor due to E having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes earlier in the pregnancy. While everything had been looking fine (great, even) throughout the pregnancy, GD can pose risks to child and mother in labor, and we wanted to get ahead of them by inducing around our due date of July 26th.
We were perhaps a bit naïve about how quickly things would progress: we had visions of entering Sunday night and giving birth late Monday night, early Tuesday morning. Yet none of the interventions did much to move labor along, and by Wednesday morning, things had pretty much come to a standstill at a still early stage. It was becoming clearer that a “normal” birth was not on this little one’s agenda (he complicated things by being positioned at an odd angle- stubborn, just like his Mama and Papa!).
So after talking with the doctors and nurses, calming ourselves as much as possible, we decided that a C-Section was the right choice for our little boy’s birth.
Neither of us had slept more than three hours at a time since we arrived at the hospital, and the exhaustion would only get worse, but as I waited in the recovery room to be called into the operating room, dressed in my too-small scrubs, I prayed: for calm, for the doctors, for E, for Atticus, for me… I already felt wet in the eyes, something that would happen pretty easily over the next few days (as I write this I find myself getting a little choked up again!).
That first scream was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I was at E’s head, and we just cried on each other in relief and joy. A moment later I felt a nurses hand guiding me to stand up to see my son, and when E asked me how he looked, I took a page right out of the Friends episode where Phoebe gives birth to triplets, and replied, “So gross!” (Everyone in the OR laughed at that one, and I got many high-fives over the next couple of days for that remark. “Hi, I’m Chandler, I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.”).
I got to cut his umbilical cord, one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I got to hold him mere moments after his birth, close to E’s face, and we were finally a family of three.
I got to see and feel the joy from my partner, and share with her one of the most beautiful experiences life has to offer.
And we named him Atticus James.
His middle name, James, is after E’s grandfather, a man I lament I never got to meet. She tells stories of his strength, his love, his devotion, and his character. I pray my son embodies these traits.
His first name is probably pretty recognizable for most people who have taken a high school English class. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of E’s favorite books and mine. I rarely re-read books, but TKaM is one I have returned to multiple times.
Even before we were engaged, E and I talked and dreamed about having children together, and we agreed pretty early on about names for our unborn children. I have always dreamed of naming my son Atticus after the main character of my favorite book. Yet over the past few months, I admit I have worried about how his name will be viewed (and not just at the too easy nickname “AJ”. I’m afraid we’re going to be fighting against that one his whole life!)
Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, is one of the most heroic characters in all of literature. In Atticus Finch, I find all of my hopes, dreams, and desires for my son, Atticus James.
I want him to be brave:
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
I want him to be kind:
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
I want him to be unprejudiced:
“I think there is just one kind of folks. Folks.”
I want him to be empathetic:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I want him to be humble, and to embrace failure:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”
I want him to know justice, and to fight for it for all people:
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Just over a year ago, Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman was released, the second novel by Harper Lee. I bought the book, but I have yet to actually read it. Part of me is hesitant to read it. The issues surrounding its publication are troubling: was this a book Lee ever intended to see published? Is this a case of elder abuse, of powerful people taking advantage of an aging woman?
While I have not read Watchman (yet) it is hard to not know some of what the book tells. It reportedly takes place years after the events of Mockingbird, in which an adult Scout is caring for her aging father, Atticus. In his old age, Atticus shows some disturbing racist attitudes and feelings.
So the question that has been circulating in my mind, and which affected (to a certain extent) our decision to name our son is: what do we do with the Atticus Finch we know and love from To Kill a Mockingbird, now that we have this new information about his character from Go Set a Watchman?
My initial reaction is to say that these are not the same character. Watchman was written before Lee’s famous Mockingbird, and the rumors that she never intended to publish this earlier work (which is set after Mockingbird; follow that?), tells me as a writer, that Watchman was a way to develop characters, work out some story ideas, and prepare her for writing To Kill a Mockingbird. I have told myself that perhaps the Atticus Finch of Watchman is an “alternate universe” Atticus Finch. This is true.
But what if they are the same? What if the Atticus Finch of both books is the same man? How do we reconcile our love of the earlier, honorable Atticus, with the shameful racism of the latter?
Well, human nature is in itself, complex and multifaceted. In humanity, we have beauty and grace and love. Yet we also have an underbelly, that which is ugly, and disgraceful, and sad.
But we cannot claim one without acknowledging the other.
We must own our past sins, for when we do, we can allow healing and growth. We also allow the beauty to shine that much brighter.
I know that my son will not be perfect. He will make mistakes. He may do things that are hurtful. My hope is that he will learn from these less attractive times to make himself a stronger, more justice-serving person.
We must accept the fact that, even though the Atticus Finch from TKaM was honorable and just and brave, our heroes are all round, fully formed people, with good in them, as well as not so good. I think it makes Atticus more relatable.
So when I look at my son through bleary eyes in the middle of the night as I try to calm him back to sleep, I hope for him to experience the fullness of life, all of its splendor and its pain. As a parent, my instinct is to shelter him from anything “bad,” but I know I cannot, and I also know that he will be stronger from it. So I hope he leans into it.
And I hope he takes his strong name and does strong things in this world. A father’s love sets high expectations, after all.