For the Love of Fathers

Last month, I enjoyed putting together a post in honor of Mother’s Day. This month I would certainly not neglect Father’s Day, especially since my own father is no longer with us, having died suddenly of a stroke almost four years ago.

As crucial as our mothers are to our development, I sometimes wonder if it is a father’s character – his temperament, values, and behavior – which has an even greater impact on our lives. I don’t know. Just a theory. I’m no psychologist, that’s for sure! But it seems that fathers set the “compass” for the whole family, exerting influence and power in ways that can range dramatically from beneficial and supportive, to detrimental and demoralizing. Some of us are lucky, as I was, to have a decent, upstanding, loyal father figure whose devotion to his family was immeasurable. Others have to contend with a judgmental, narrow-minded, even bullying sort. Fathers can be heroic, and they can be destructive. They can be steadfast, and they can be irresponsible. They can be brave, and they can be cowardly. They can make us proud, and they can embarrass us to no end. In some instances, they are a little bit of everything. Whoever our fathers are, we always seem to want their approval and acceptance, even if they make our lives miserable in the process!

Paul Cezanne knew a thing or two about the power of a father’s approval . . . and disapproval. Louis-Auguste Cezanne was a wealthy businessman and banker in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. His business ventures afforded the Cezanne family a financially secure lifestyle, one that would prove highly advantageous for Paul throughout his life. A pragmatic, unsophisticated man, Louis-Auguste did not approve of his son’s desire to pursue a life in art. He preferred that the young Paul attend law school, and in 1859 at the age of twenty, Paul did just that. But as usual when one goes against their nature, Paul was unhappy. He appealed to his father to allow him to go to Paris to study art, where his childhood friend Emile Zola had already gone in pursuit of his literary dreams. Although he made his objections known, the elder Cezanne reluctantly let him go. He even gave him an allowance and paid his travel expenses.

Paris, however, did not turn out as Paul had hoped. After six months, he was miserable and depressed. Disillusioned, he returned to Aix and worked for his father. But still he was unhappy. He was not cut out for the business world.

So he decided to to pursue his artistic aspirations again, and gave Paris one more shot. Again, Cezanne met with great obstacles. He was declined for admission to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and repeatedly rejected by the Salon. Also, his unrefined style, shy, introverted personality, and awkward social manners placed him as an outcast in the polished, bourgeois Parisian scene. He was a fish out of water. But he did manage to make acquaintances with the Impressionist artists like Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Camille Pisarro, with whom he would develop a close, collaborative friendship.

In 1866, Paul Cezanne did this painting of his famously difficult father. It’s really a wonderful piece when we consider the rocky, problematic nature of their relationship. Notice how unusually large the chair is, and the tense sitting pose of his father, reflecting the gruff, no-nonsense style of a tough guy businessman. I think Cezanne clearly captured his father’s intimidating personality:

Ironically, it was the considerable inheritance that Paul Cezanne received after his father’s death which allowed him to live and paint free of financial worries. Thanks to Louis-Auguste’s hard work, his son was spared the “starving artist” lifestyle, and enjoyed years of painting comfortably at the family’s summer home. A father’s love and support can be complicated. It can come with conditions and terms. It often comes through in the end.

In memory of my father, the late Edward Hajian, musician, Brooklyn native, army veteran, loving father and husband of 44 years, Happy Father’s Day . . .