In his first interview since about reunited with his father in 2009 after a five-year international dispute, Sean Goldman remembered being confused and having mixed feelings about returning to the United States.
Goldman, now 11, was abducted in 2004 when his Brazilian-born mother took him from their New Jersey home on what was supposed to be a two-week vacation to her native country. She abruptly cut ties with his biological father, David Goldman, divorcing him and marrying a lawyer from a prominent Brazilian family while keeping Sean in Brazil.
When Sean was 8, his mother died from complications after childbirth, and his Brazilian stepfather moved to adopt him. David Goldman fought for the return of his son, triggering an international case that made headlines and lasted until Sean was reunited with him on Christmas Eve in 2009. Sean spent half of his life in Brazil before rejoining his father to live at his home in Tinton Falls, N.J.
Sean spoke with NBC’s Meredith Vieira about his feelings during the ordeal and its aftermath in an interview that will air on Dateline’ on Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
“I wasn't angry, but I was confused,’’ he said. “Because where's my dad?’’
While David was working tirelessly to bring his son home, Sean had no idea how badly his father wanted him back. He never questioned his mother or grandmother about why his biological father was no longer in their lives and why they never returned to America.Video: Why was Goldman case so difficult? (on this page)
“I was scared to ask,’’ he said.
While trying to make sense of the custody battle at such a young age, Goldman buried his emotions.
“I didn’t want to be like a loner, so I had to kind of tuck the feelings away and try to live with the…situation,’’ he said.
It took President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting involved to move the case to Brazilian federal court from the local courts. The higher court ultimately awarded his biological father custody after years of legal wrangling in which his Brazilian family fought international treaties and court rulings in United States courts that upheld David’s rights to his biological son.
On Christmas Eve in 2009, Sean left Rio de Janeiro to board a plane chartered by NBC to Orlando with his father. As they made their way to the plane, the 8-year-old was besieged by cameras from all angles as he cried in the street. His Brazilian family deliberately paraded him in front of the media in protest of the court order that returned him to David Goldman’s custody.
“(I remember) getting dragged through streets full of cameramen — a lot of people pushing," he told Vieira. “And hearing a lot of yelling and people calling my name. I just wanted to shoot through everybody.’’Video: Goldman: There was a great deal of pain (on this page)
He admitted having “mixed feelings’’ about wanting to leave Brazil, but once he boarded the plane, he just wanted it all to be over.
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Sean's Brazilian grandmother is still fighting to see him and claims that David Goldman is denying her access to Sean and therefore violating his human rights. But David Goldman says she can see her grandson anytime she wants if she will agree to a few basic conditions, including dropping her lawsuits in Brazil that are still appealing the decision to send Sean home.
“I remember going into the plane and my dad was looking around and waving,’’ Sean said. “I just told him to hurry up because I wanted to get in the plane and just…come back to America.’’
The bond with his father has come a long way since he first returned to the United States. He initially would not call his father “Dad,’’ but in the two-plus years since the two were reunited, they have forged a true father-son relationship. He agreed that his father is now his “best buddy.’’
“Other dads might just be a dad, but he’s more than a dad,’’ he said.
Meredith Vieira's interview with Sean Goldman on Dateline airs at 10 p.m. ET Friday on NBC, and tune in to TODAY Friday morning for a live interview with Sean Goldman's father, David Goldman.
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