“Could I Have a Hug, Atticus?”

I recently spent my last day as a 30-something wallowing in the doldrums, a consequence of both the milestone that I was about to tick over to and the previous Saturday night’s over-the-top celebrations in honour of it.

In search of some cleansing music, I found myself typing ‘the theme to To Kill a Mockingbird’ into my search engine. It could be that I had Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch on the brain after naming him No.1 in an article recalling history’s greatest movie dads – and that, gee, I could do with some of Atticus’ wisdom as I navigate fatherhood and middle age.

Heck, I could do with a HUG from Atticus!

Atticus might be taken aback – for he’s a character who lived life purely by doing what he deems right, and in that sense probably doesn’t see himself as so special – but I reckon if he opened a stall offering a five-minute chat that concluded with a big man-hug, there’d be miles-long queues of blokes, regardless of where it was in the world.

“Atticus’ Global Chat-and-Hug Tour…”

Imagine it!

But back to Elmer Bernstein’s stunning orchestral score. I think the overriding reason for my revisit is that reflections of my own mortality and the very essence of life (something Atticus is effortlessly across) had been on constant rotation for some time.

The tune transports me to my own childhood, to when I sat with my mother and watched the on-screen adaptation to Harper Lee’s classic novel for the first time.

As Scout’s adult narrator wound things up with that timeless line – “[Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning” – my mother had tears in her eyes. “There’s just something about that movie,” her voice quivered.

Now I understand what moved her so: it’s a movie that, while beautiful in its own right, carries even more weight when you have kids of your own.

The theme song’s early tinkles of piano, harp and flute evoke the playfulness and innocence of childhood, and those searing strings: the weariness and weight of adulthood.

And there’s something else: a strong desire to hold your little ones close, Atticus-style; to not destroy the mockingbird.


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