Atticus\'s function is to contrast the popular opinion and attitudes of Maycomb at the time of the novel. He is also the moral center of the novel. He does what no one is really willing to do - defend an innocent black man who has been accused of rape. The majority of the people would just let the mob mentality lynch Tom and southern justice would reign supreme. But Atticus doesn\'t let that happen.
There are numerous examples of this. He stands up to the lynch mob that comes to get Tom. Jem reads cartoons about Atticus in the paper depicting him as a dull, hardworking legislator. Scout sees her father bravely and heroically kill a rabid dog and then shrug off all credit for it. And Atticus is the one who constantly tells Scout not to judge others until she has put herself in their situation.
It is little wonder that several years ago TBS rated Atticus as the greatest hero ever depicted on the silver screen (from the film adaptation of the novel). I think it\'s safe to say there everyone can find something heroic and redeemable in Atticus\'s character.
Comparing him to most fathers is really unfair. Outside of treating his children like adults, it's hard to find fault with Atticus. Most fathers, I think, would have some of Atticus's characteristics, but I find it hard to imagine that most fathers can really "walk the walk and talk the talk" in terms of his morals and ethics as Atticus does.