Source: USA Today — For five long years, when friends and strangers pressed him for news about his son, Sean, David Goldman had precious little to offer.
Sean, who was abducted by his mother as a 4-year-old, remained in Brazil, and Goldman’s efforts to get him back — or even see him — were being thwarted at every turn.
Today, Goldman is brimming with updates. Sean, who turns 11 in a few weeks, is loving Little League, is doing well in the fifth grade, recently hooked an 8-pound trout, and, on a whim, had his mop of sandy hair buzzed short during a sleepover at a friend’s house — something he now regrets, incidentally, according to his dad.
After the extraordinary drama surrounding their protracted separation, Goldman, 44, of Tinton Falls, N.J., is relishing the ordinariness of their life together — whether it’s shooting hoops in the driveway, helping with homework, or having a little father-and-son chat about why dumping Goldfish crackers in a schoolmate’s chocolate milk isn’t such a hot idea.
“I’m just so, so thankful that we’re back together, and that he’s really thriving,” Goldman said during a recent interview. “He can be a 10-year-old boy again. It’s beautiful.”
More than 16 months have passed since their climactic Christmas Eve flight home from Rio de Janeiro. The two have used that time to “”heal, adjust and bond,” Goldman said.
The adjustment process has been smooth, he said. Sean still meets with a therapist, but to see Sean playing video games with his friends and interacting with his father, one could scarcely guess it’s the same boy who was at the center of a wrenching, international tug-of-war.
No longer a “dead man walking,” as he describes himself during his son’s absence, Goldman is back to work as a charter boat captain and doing modeling jobs again, and he’s in a close relationship with a woman he met whom he identifies only as “Wendy” while Sean was in Brazil.
Goldman has kept a low profile since his return with Sean. But with the recent publication of his book, A Father’s Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home (Viking, $26.95), he’s talking publicly again about his ordeal. Last night, he appeared on Dateline NBC, the same program that helped make him an international celebrity in 2008, four years into what until then had been a lonely, uphill battle to get his son back.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Bring Sean Home Foundation, a grassroots organization that rallied around his cause. The group focuses on raising awareness about the plight of some 3,000 other American children living abroad who have been abducted by a parent or relative. There are more than 60 such children still in Brazil, in defiance of U.S. and international law, Goldman said.
“We need to do something,” he said, pointing to federal legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., who was instrumental in securing Sean’s return, that calls for tougher penalties on noncompliant countries and a special ambassador-at-large to focus on abduction cases.
‘Where have you been?’
Goldman collaborated on A Father’s Love with author Ken Abraham. The first-person account fills in the intimate details of a storyline that’s broadly familiar to millions worldwide.
It begins with his seemingly idyllic marriage to a beautiful Brazilian fashion student named Bruna Bianchi Carneiro Ribeiro in 1999. The couple, who met while Goldman was modeling in Milan, Italy, settled in Tinton Falls, N.J. Their first child, Sean, was born the following year. His birthday, May 25, would have ironic significance later, when Goldman learned that President Ronald Reagan had proclaimed that date in 1983 as National Missing Children’s Day.
The couple appeared to enjoy a happy life together. They socialized often with Bruna’s parents, Raimundo and Silvana Ribeiro, who purchased a vacation condominium nearby.
On June 16, 2004, everything changed. That was the day Goldman drove his wife and son to Newark Liberty International Airport and waved good-bye to his family as they boarded a flight to Brazil for what he thought was a two-week vacation with relatives and friends.
A few days later, Goldman says, Bruna called to say she was filing for a divorce in Brazil and warned him that if he didn’t agree to her terms immediately, he’d never see his son again.
What followed was an agonizing, five-year battle with a confounding Brazilian legal system that refused to acknowledge the illegality of Sean’s abduction, or recognize Goldman’s parental rights. Even after Bruna’s death in 2008 from complications during childbirth, Brazilian courts allowed Sean to remain in the custody of his maternal grandparents and the man Bruna had remarried, attorney Joo Paulo Lins e Silva, who is from one of Brazil’s most politically influential families and the son of an authority on international parental child abduction law.
It wasn’t until Feb. 9, 2009, that a judge finally agreed to let Goldman visit his son. By that time, Goldman had made fruitless trips to Brazil, and had had countless cards and phone calls to Sean turned aside by the Ribeiro and Lins e Silva families. He had also garnered the support of several key allies, including Smith, who accompanied him to Brazil numerous times, U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who would later hold up a multibillion-dollar trade bill to turn up the heat on the Brazilian government, and a former assistant U.S. secretary of state named Bernard Aronson, who worked to lobbySecretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama to take an active role in the case.
Sean knew none of this, Goldman said. Instead, he said, he was told by those he loved and trusted that his father was a deadbeat who wanted nothing to do with him.
Every day a ‘miracle’
Goldman said he’d prefer that Sean not read the book until he’s older, though they’ve talked about what happened in Brazil.
“When he came back, he had been told horrible things about us. That was a big conflict for him,” Goldman said. “He saw that we didn’t live in a shack, that our country wasn’t a horrible place.”
One aspect of Goldman’s ordeal that may be a surprise is that it’s not completely over.
Raimundo Ribeiro, Sean’s maternal grandfather, died in March, but both his wife, Silvana, and Lins e Silva have continued to file motions in Brazil to overturn the ruling by the country’s top court that ultimately returned Sean to his father. Ribeiro is also pressing for unrestricted visitation rights in New Jersey.
While Goldman is slowly paying off a legal tab of more than $700,000, the meter is still running. He hopes that sales of his book will reduce the debt.
Whatever the cost, though, Goldman considers it a small price to pay to have his son with him again. After everything he and Sean have had to endure, each day feels like a “miracle,” he said.
Published by: ABP World Group International Child Recovery Services