The Unavailable FATHER: Seven Ways Women Can Understand, Heal and Cope with a Broken Father-Daughter Relationship is written by Sarah Simms Rosenthal, PhD. The relationship between a father and his young daughter sets the stage for many different aspects of the daughter’s adult life. Little girls are affected on so many levels from the bond (or lack thereof) and quality of the bond, such as the relationships she gets involved with, her own self-esteem, her own self-worth, her identity and much more.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rosenthal by telephone recently. When I first learned about her book and her work, I was immediately intrigued on a personal as well as professional level. While my relationship with my father was always and still is a very healthy and positive one, my eight-year-old daughter is dealing with her own father’s unavailability, and this affects her and I greatly. I am extremely interested in how I can help this relationship, and more importantly, should I be unable to help the relationship, how can I help my child so that she can cope and grown into a mentally healthy woman, despite this often shaky relationship. Additionally, as a Mental Health Counselor, I have spoken with many women who have been dealing with working through the ramifications of dealing with an unavailable father, and if I can utilize the information from Dr. Rosenthal in my own clients to help others, that would be such an added bonus.
I read the book in a few short hours. I was deeply interested in the different stories that Dr. Rosenthal shared for each of the different types of unavailable fathers that were mentioned in the book: The Disapproving Father, The Mentally Ill Father, The Substance-Abusing Father, The Unreliable Father, and The Absent Father. I was able to relate personally to The Unreliable Father and The Absent Father due to the relationship with my daughter and her father. I was also able to recall many conversations and online postings I have read from other women about their own relationships with their fathers and it was quite obvious that the research and work that Dr. Rosenthal has put into “The Unavailable Father” could benefit SO MANY of us.
The biggest and most important message that I walked away with and will stress to all of my readers and friends after speaking to Dr. Rosenthal is that ALL MEN DON’T JUST DISAPPEAR, and ALL MEN ARE NOT UNAVAILABLE. For me, this is something I value and hold to with regards to my daughter. Although she is seeing her father let her down on so many levels, she does see that not all men are going to let her down. When we first divorced, my daughter and I moved in with my parents, and she had my father and (even though he wasn’t living with us, he was close by) my brother. They showed her love and taught her skills that she needed to learn from a father-figure at the three-year old age that she was. When I got remarried to Paul a year and a half later, my daughter had and still has that healthy father-daughter type relationship that she is often lacking from her own father. When her father calls to cancel a weekend last minute, she has Paul’s arms in addition to mine to cry in. When she has a father-daughter event or question that might be better off answered by a man, she has Paul to turn to.
Dr. Rosenthal reinforced my feelings when she explained how a positive and healthy relationship with another male role model to a young girl with an unavailable father makes such a difference for her adulthood. While overcoming the negatives of any unhealthy father-daughter relationship is not easy, it is possible for a woman to grow into a healthy adult with healthy relationships. Her book does a very good job in helping the women learn how to go about doing this.
I asked Dr. Rosenthal another question that I felt was something that might help my daughter as well as all my readers who might be dealing with an unavailable father, whether their own father or their daughter’s. I wanted to know more about the decision to break ties with “the Unavailable Father.” Dr. Rosenthal explained that it is important to foster a relationship with your father on your own terms. This is not only self-empowering, it is also enabling the woman to maintain a sense of control over the relationship, empowering her to choose what she will allow or not allow to happen in the relationship. As an adult, a woman needs to be able to cope as best as SHE can with the ramifications of the fallout or negative issues in the relationship. For the mother of a young girl who has an unavailable father, the most important thing a mother can do is to be aware of the relationship, to be a positive force in the child’s life, and to be as consistent and reliable for the child as possible. A mother must always remember that if the young girl is being abused or if the relationship is truly toxic for the child, that child’s safety is most important.
Dr. Rosenthal and I discussed confronting your father (if he is still alive and around) as a grown woman to be able to possibly understand more fully why he behaved the way he did, even allowing yourself to be more easily forgiving. She goes into detail with this in the book as one of the steps to healing. Learning and understanding can often be quite helpful in healing.
I think I could have spoken with Dr. Rosenthal for hours, as she is professional and knowledgeable, understanding and personable, all of the qualities that I would look for in a clinician and therapist. Sarah Simms Rosenthal has a website that you can visit at www.theunavailablefather.com and is available for both in-person therapy at her Upper East Side private practice NYC and for phone therapy. For more information or to set up an appointment with Dr. Rosenthal, visit her website.
Jennifer Nevadomski, MS
Advisory board member, Mamapalooza