In his only interview since his dramatic Christmas Eve reunion with the son for whom he has waged a five-year international custody battle, David Goldman revealed that Sean, 9, has yet to call him Dad. “But now we’re together and we'll heal,” Goldman said.
“He hasn’t really called me anything,” Goldman told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in Orlando, Fla., where he and Sean were getting reacquainted after their long separation. “And I think he’s struggling with that. I said, ‘You can call me Dad.’ And he didn’t say anything.”
But Goldman feels certain that day will come. For now, it’s enough that the long nightmare that began when his Brazilian wife took Sean to Brazil in 2004 for what was to be a two-week vacation is over.
A Christmas miracle
The way it ended, with a Christmas Eve handover in downtown Rio de Janeiro, seemed to have something of the supernatural about it.
“It’s a miracle,” Goldman told Vieira. “There was 364 other days that [it] could’ve been, if he ever were going to come home. But it was Christmas Eve. Somebody’s up there for sure. That’s amazing.”
Vieira asked Goldman to describe Christmas Eve and Christmas, the first night and day the two have spent together in five years.
“Two beautiful nights,” is how Goldman described it. “There are no words to describe the pain and suffering these last five years. And there’s no words to describe how joyous and wonderful it is to be with my son again.”
Video: Why was Goldman case so difficult? On Christmas Eve, “We went to the room, obviously,” Goldman continued. “I ran a bath for him. So he jumped in the bath and, you know, cleaned himself up, and I picked out his pajamas or whatever he was going to wear that night and gave him his privacy, let him do his thing, a little man,” Goldman said.
They called room service for dinner. Sean’s order, the happy father said, was, “Chicken tenders, which he loved when he was here — before.”
On Christmas, Goldman, Sean and some of Sean’s American cousins spent their time in Orlando visiting Disney World and getting reacquainted. “He’s with his cousins, and they’re having fun, and he’s loved — very, very loved,” Goldman said.
Years of frustration
During the nine-hour flight home, Sean was sleepy from the dramatic, as well as chaotic, scene outside the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro early Thursday. His Brazilian stepfather and other relatives paraded Sean past the media to protest a Brazilian court order that Sean be returned to Goldman, his biological father.
When Sean was 4, his mother took him home to her native Brazil for a two-week vacation. But she never returned, divorcing Goldman and marrying a lawyer from a prominent and influential family. When she died last year during childbirth, her Brazilian husband moved to adopt Sean.
After years of frustration and setbacks, Goldman had been saying that he would not know he had his son back until the wheels of the plane were up and they were on their way back to the United States.
Over the holiday weekend, he told Vieira that the realization came earlier than anticipated, at the end of the parade, when Sean’s Brazilian family brought him into the U.S. Embassy.
“I really, I really knew it then,” he said. “I knew it.”
Looking ahead, not back
Goldman told Vieira that he hopes Sean can put that ugly scene in Rio de Janeiro behind him.
“I hope he doesn’t have lifelong nightmares of that day,” Goldman said, recounting the agony of watching Sean crying as the cameras pressed close around him. “My heart has been breaking, and has been broken over and over, and over and over through this whole terrible ordeal. I’ll never understand them. I will never. I don’t think anybody who has rational logic and true love can ever grasp that spectacle that they created out there. For what? Why?”
Video: ‘Primal nurturing bond is there,’ Goldman says Despite his resentment of the way Sean’s Brazilian family behaved during the five years of legal battling, Goldman said he will allow Sean’s maternal grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, to continue to see him. He had an opportunity to tell her that in the embassy.
“She said to me, ‘Will you allow me to see him?’ And I looked at her and I said, ‘I will not do to you what you have done to me,’ ” Goldman said. “And then I said, ‘But now you need to tell him that you remember how good of a father that I was, how good of a father that I am, and how you know I will continue to be a good father.’ And I also gave her a hug. He needed to see that.”
David had last seen Sean in June in Brazil. Vieira asked what it was like to see him again, knowing that they would be returning home together.
“Well, he was very hot. And he was just saying, ‘I’m very hot,’ like talking to me like we’ve spoken for a very long time. He didn’t ever, ever once say, ‘I don’t want to go with you, I don’t want to be with you.’ He had no resistance at all. But at the same time, he was in a great deal of pain. I mean, what he had just experienced, it’s unfathomable.”
Goldman said he’s concerned because Sean did not resist the handover, nor did he cry. “It would be natural for him to be crying. It would be normal for him to be crying,” Goldman said. “There’s got to be pain. There’s got to be pain hidden in there. I know I have it. My mission, my focus is to be with him and to help him and to reestablish our father-and-son bond.”
Making up for lost time
Sean has spent more than half of his life in Brazil. That’s a lot of time to make up for. “I missed five years, precious years, of my son’s life. That’s a big scar,” Goldman told Vieira. “But now we’re together. And we’ll heal. And we’ll enjoy and live and love and share and cry and laugh and learn as father and son.”
Video: Goldman: There was a great deal of pain Goldman cherishes memories of canoeing with Sean on the waterways behind his house. “I’ve been dreaming, if there’s one moment that I have of hopes and aspirations, is for us to just go for a paddle in our backyard. I long for that day. I’ll probably [be] crying,” the dad said with a chuckle. “He loved it so much. And that was just us in nature, right at home and it was so beautiful.”
Goldman lives in Tinton Falls, N.J. He said Sean was concerned about how much snow there was there and how cold it might be.
“He was saying, ‘I need to get boots. I need a winter coat,’ ” Goldman said. “He’s been envisioning it. He’s been imagining it. So, I was just responding and reacting as best I could to keep him calm, and to keep reassuring him that I love him ... I just wanted to, of course, pick him up like I do every single time I see him.”
Goldman says that he sees much of the 4-year-old he knew so well in the 9-year-old who came home with him.
“The old Sean was 4½. So the goofiness now would be to a 9-year-old’s goofy,” he said, “He was such a happy, sweet boy. I hope he still has some innocence left. I believe he does.”
Vieira asked Goldman what it will mean the first time Sean calls him “Dad.”
“It’ll mean the world when he says it,” Goldman replied. “It would mean we’ve come a long way.”
A special two-hour “Dateline” about the case will air on Friday, Jan. 8, 2010, starting at 8 p.m. ET.
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