Silda Spitzer looked about as devastated as any human being could be as she stood at her husband Eliot's side while he announced that yes, he had patronized a prostitution ring.
But as awful as this must be for her, there are three other innocent victims of Eliot Spitzer's unseemly behavior — his three teenage daughters, Elyssa, Sarabeth and Jenna. Anyone who has ever been through the experience of having their father choose another woman over their mother, especially if it happened when they were a teenager, knows how traumatic this can be. Whether your father has an affair or anonymous sex, it's all the same and it's even more devastating when the world knows about it.
As Dr. Jenn Berman, psychotherapist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, says, "when you're a teenager, it can be embarrassing enough just to be seen in public with your parent, let alone to have all your friends know about your dad's sexual escapades." And in this case, the world knows. There's no school that you can switch even in Timbuktu to, where your classmates aren't going to be whispering."
Aside from the embarrassment factor, the Spitzer girls no doubt feel like a warm, security blanket has been ripped off their backs. "Teens count on their parents to look out for their best interests and to take care of them and their family. Now they've been betrayed," says Dr. Berman. "They've even been betrayed financially. When their father took money that should have been used for their family and instead spent it on his sexual gratification, it's like spending it on drugs."
Most little girls grow up worshiping their fathers. Daddies are big and strong enough to pick you up when you fall down and scrape your knee. They carry you inside when you fall asleep in the car. They teach you how to ride your bike.
In Pictures: Eliot Spitzer With His Daughters
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer orders some food at the New York State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007, in Geddes, N.Y. With him is daughter Jenna and wife Silda. (AP Photo Empire Expo Center, Mike Okoniewski)
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, right, arrives for a church service in Albany, N.Y. Monday morning, Jan. 1, 2007 with his family. From left are, Spitzer's daughter, Jenna; wife, Silda Wall Spitzer; and daughters, Elyssa; and Sarabeth. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer poses for photographers with his wife Silda, far right, and his three daughters, from left, Elyssa,16, Sarabeth, 14, and Jenna,12, on Election Day 2006. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer watches early election returns with his wife Silda, far right, and daughters, from left, Elyssa, 16, Sarabeth, 14, and Jenna, 12, on Election Day 2006. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Eliot Spitzer, right, buys baked goods for his wife, Silda, second from right, and daughters Elyssa, second from left, and Sarabeth in the lobby of the school where he voted in the midterm elections, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, accompanied by his daughter, Sarabeth, 14, leaves a school in New York after casting his vote, Tuesday Sept. 12, 2006. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney General and candidate for Governor, plays around with his daughter, Jenna, 12, along with wife Silda at a rally in Niagara Falls, N.Y. on Monday, May 29, 2006. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney General and candidate for Governor, along with his wife, Silda, left, and daughter Jenna, 12, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Monday, May 29, 2006. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
And in this case, Eliot Spitzer wasn't just any old terrific dad, he seemed like a genuine and "wonderful white knight rooting out evil," points out Dr. Jacqueline Olds. He put bad guys behind bars. The problem with this is that "it makes him seem like such a hypocrite now and young people have a far lower tolerance for hypocrisy than adults. So it will make it especially hard for them to deal with this," explains Dr. Olds, McLean Hospital psychiatrist and author of the book Marriage in Motion: The Natural Ebb and Flow of Lasting Relationships.
It could also make it hard for the Spitzer daughters to develop their own positive loving relationships with men as they grow up, warns psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman "They're at a time — 13, 15, and 18 — when they're starting to date and finding out that the man they love most has betrayed their mom and family could cause them to distrust any boy they start to get close to, because he may break their hearts," says the author of Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live With Them and When to Leave Them.
But they aren't totally alone in their boat of private family matters exposed in public. Other daughters have survived this situation, thrived and remained close to their fathers. Chelsea Clinton is remarkably adjusted post Monica Lewinsky. Ivanka Trump couldn't have found it easy when her parents' marriage imploded on the front page of the New York Post. Today she's a successful businesswoman who stars on Donald's hit show, "Celebrity Apprentice." Actor David Hasselhoff's two teenage daughters videotaped their father drunk and incoherent, lying on the floor and the tape was aired around the world. Today he has custody of the girls and apparently a close relationship.
"If Eliot Spitzer has been a good and decent father I believe that even teenage daughters can put this experience in context," asserts psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, author of Living the Truth. In other words, despite the anger and betrayal that his daughters may feel now and for a long time, he can repair his relationship with them. "He must say to them 'I need to understand why I would have taken this risk not just with my own career but with your feelings and I will be there for you 1,000 percent now."
So true. Too often dads that disappoint their families make the betrayal even worse, by abandoning them. So Eliot Spitzer, despite the guilt you're feeling and despite the anger your daughters may express, the last thing you should do is take the "easy" exit from their lives. Even if it means years of personal and family therapy to figure out why you made such a huge mistake, do it. And don't think your girls are better off without you. They're not.
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