Atticus Finch is portrayed as a morally upright, honest man, who is a positive role model to Jem and Scout and teaches them many important life lessons in hopes that they will mature into responsible, tolerant individuals. Atticus teaches his children lessons on perspective, courage, justice, and the importance of protecting vulnerable, defenseless people. He encourages Jem and Scout to exercise tolerance and treat everyone with respect and equality, regardless of race or class. As a single parent, Atticus allows Scout to express her individuality by behaving like a tomboy and is not an austere, strict parent.
If one were to critique Atticus's parenting skills, one could argue that he puts his children in a difficult, threatening position by choosing to defend Tom Robinson. Atticus exposes his children to Maycomb's ugly racial prejudice, and they become targets in their small community. Atticus also underestimates Bob Ewell's malevolence and puts his children in harm's way by dismissing his threats.
Unlike his racist neighbors, Atticus treats Calpurnia and Tom Robinson with respect and fairness. Even though Cal is a black woman, Atticus considers her an integral member of their family and comes to her defense when Aunt Alexandra suggests that he fire her. Atticus tells his sister,
"You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are ... We still need Cal as much as we ever did" (Lee, 138).
While Atticus treats Cal with respect, his neighbors view their black servants and cooks with contempt. Mrs. Merriweather even refers to her maid as "darky." Atticus's valiant defense of Tom Robinson demonstrates his tolerant, benevolent nature as he risks his reputation attempting to save Tom's life while the majority of Maycomb's citizens believe that he "oughta hang from the water-tank."
Atticus holds progressive beliefs regarding racial equality compared to his prejudiced neighbors, who view black people as second class citizens. He believes that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law and does not judge others based on their race or class. He is an authentic, honest man, who does not conform to the prejudiced majority and abides by his own conscience. Miss Maudie compares Atticus to his prejudiced neighbors when she says,
"We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us" (Lee, 219).
Overall, Atticus is a morally upright, courageous man, who is not afraid to challenge society's conventions and does so by defending a black man and arguing for racial equality.