A particularly painful anecdote from John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards’ marriage was made public last Wednesday during the former senator’s embezzlement trial, prompting the couple’s eldest daughter, Cate Edwards Upham, 30, to abruptly leave the courtroom in tears.
The Associated Press reported that former Edwards' aide Christina Reynolds told the court how Elizabeth Edwards confronted her husband about his extramarital affair during a 2007 campaign stop. In an airport hangar, she reportedly pulled off both her shirt and bra and yelled at him: “You don't see me anymore!”
Upham's emotional exit raises a bigger issue: While the public can demonize and forget a fallen political figure like Edwards, his daughter has to call him Dad for life. So, how can Upham -- or any young woman in a similar situation -- forgive?
To better understand the dynamic between a father and a daughter in this scenario, HuffPost spoke to experts who have dealt with children and parents facing comparable issues. While none of the experts have worked personally with Edwards or his family, their experience has shown that when a father damages his daughter’s perception of him by having an affair, her relationship with him may change for life.
Family mediator Laurie Puhn, author of “Fight Less, Love More,” said Upham seems to have taken on what would have been Elizabeth Edwards’ role.
“Obviously, I haven’t counseled him or her, but she sits by him in what would have been the role of the supportive wife. It’s a motherly role. It’s a wifely role. It’s definitely not a daughterly role,” Puhn said.
Perhaps Upham shoulders this responsibility to help maintain a sense of normalcy for her two younger siblings, Puhn said, so that they can have a relationship with her father. “When you feel tremendous disappointment in your parents, you do what is necessary to make sure that they’re healthy and functional and fill the roles of parents or, in the future, grandparents,” Puhn said.
Upham, a lawyer, is the eldest of her siblings. But she is still Edwards’ child -- not his wife or caretaker. Whether this duty was self-imposed or encouraged by Edwards’ counsel, Puhn said she believes that a daughter put in Upham’s situation would be “very confused about who she is.”
When parents engage in extramarital affairs, their children sometimes learn the details. In some cases, this happens purposefully as the straying parent tries to justify his or her actions, or as the wronged one attempts to get the child on his or her side. (It could also happen accidentally if a child simply sees an illicit text message, for example.) In any case, learning such information can cause children at any age to feel betrayed and angry, as they look back on the narratives of their childhoods. Puhn said children may be unable to maintain the relationships with their parents they once had.
A daughter "might find a way to forgive" her father, Puhn said. "But she probably won’t trust his judgment ever again. And that is really the moment -- for anyone -- when we turn from being a child to looking at our parents with fresh eyes.”
Having a functional relationship, however, isn’t a lost cause, according to clinical psychologist Janis Spring, author of “How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To.”
A father who has been unfaithful in his marriage cannot reverse his actions, of course, but a daughter might be willing to “allow a father to earn her forgiveness” over time, Spring said. “Forgiveness isn’t an all-or-nothing process. People can have very respectful relationships with partial forgiveness. As time passes, the offender creates more opportunities to make good and earn more forgiveness.”
While Spring said she doesn’t condone infidelity, she said children don’t always understand what’s at the heart of their parents’ transgressions. If a spouse strays while the other is sick (as was the case with John Edwards), the affair may be because of loneliness or fear, Spring said. In these cases, parents and children should “listen to each other’s pain and understand each other as human beings,” she said. Children "may find that they have less to forgive.”
Lawyer Malcolm S. Taub, a partner at Davidoff Malito & Hutcher LLP in New York, said he believes Edwards will need to put his ego aside in order for his children to start moving toward such forgiveness. “The only way to repair this bridge -- which he has blown up -- is to concentrate on complete honesty with his children,” Taub said. “This includes a real acknowledgement of what he did, a non-defensive admission of his fragility and getting them to understand that he at least owns up to the reality of what he did and the damage that it caused to their mother, their relationship and his life. Period.”
As for Upham, it's unclear how her relationship with her father will evolve -- or if it already has. In 2007, she spoke to Harper’s Bazaar about her younger brother’s death and her mother’s cancer diagnosis, but she could have been talking about the events of last week when she said: “It's very, very hard to imagine how you would cope when you haven't faced tragedy. But the strength exists, and you do get through it.”
Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, opened up about their relationship to GQ in 2010. Check out the excerpts below.
"And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"
"We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"
"Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."
"I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."
"I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."
"Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."
"I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."
"I am not engaged."
"I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."
"I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."
"And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."
"I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."
"[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."
"Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."
"And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."
"Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."
"Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."