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Image: Sean Goldman speaks to Meredith Vieira on Dateline NBC
Dateline NBC
Sean Goldman's interview with Meredith Vieira airs on Dateline on Friday.
TODAY contributor
updated 4/24/2012 9:53:57 PM ET 2012-04-25T01:53:57

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.

Dad recounts learning wife had abducted son

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.

Image: Sean Goldman speaks to Meredith Vieira on Dateline NBC
Dateline NBC
''He's more than just a dad,'' Sean Goldman, 11, said of his father David.

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.

Image: Sean and David Goldman on a plane to Orlando, Fla.
Sean and David Goldman on a plane returning to the United States in December, 2009.

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.

David Goldman in 2009: Sean hasn't called me 'Dad' yet

“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.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Why was Goldman case so difficult?

  1. Closed captioning of: Why was Goldman case so difficult?

    >> on christmas day. we're joined now by goldman's lawyer and new jersey congressman chris smith who made the trip to brazil . good morning to you both. let me start with you, patricia, you worked so tirelessly to get these two reunited. seeing them together, how does that make you feel?

    >> it's remarkable. it's absolutely remarkable. it does, it encourages you, but then it also inspires me to think about the other children that i have on the list. that queue up to the top of the list and we start to move and working on those cases.

    >> i'm sure the other parents were probably calling you about saying, what about my happy ending ?

    >> every child who has been abducted deserves the same kind of care and concern that sean goldman has been provided. and getting to that point is really the next step.

    >> congressman smith, you were with david in brazil . you said good-bye to them both as ythey took off. what was going through your mind when you saw them board the plane?

    >> i was absolutely thrilled. especially when they got to the top of the steps and both david and his son, sean, turned around with a a big smile on their faces and waved to karen gustafson who is from the embassy and myself and we were waving like children back to them. we were so happy and filled with joy. it was like mission accomplished in a way that especially on christmas eve , as david said, it was a miracle from god.

    >> such a difficult mission to accomplish, in part because both brazil and the united states have signed the hague convention , which is supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. and yet, it seems to have failed so clearly in this case. congressman smith, why is that? why is the convention a failure?

    >> well the convention itself is not a failure. it's the implementation on the part of governments. there is no effective mechanism for enforcement, which is why i've introduced the international child abduction act, prevention act of 2009 , to give real tools a real means by which the president and the secretary of state can say to countries that are either complicit with abduction or indifferent, like brazil , like japan, okay, if you do this to american children and left behind american parents, we will impose sanctions. we will limit our foreign aid , except for humanitarian aid . we will hold back on loans. we have a series of 18 specific actions, prescribed in the legislation. to say, we're not playing games. human rights matter. these are american people . dads, moms, and children, whose human rights here in america are being violated in many cases with impunity. and david 's case has not only helped david . but all the left-behind parents and their children have been given fresh hope, fresh impetus to fight on. they broke david 's heart, but they did not break his spirit.

    >> congressman, you introduced that legislation back in june. where does it stand at this point?

    >> well it has been referred to several committees. the foreign affairs committee is the primary committee of jurisdiction. my hope is, and i would call on the speaker, i would call on my good friend, denny hoyer and others in the democrat and the republican side , to mark up this bill now. there's no reason for delay. we fashioned it after a bill that i wrote back in 2000 , called the trafficking victims protection act. the purpose of which was to combat modern-day slavery. sex trafficking and labor trafficking. the key to the success of that law, back in 2000 , are the sanctions. if you do not hold countries to account, this is country-to-country. it is not a matter, this is abduction. and if the legal system, the executive branch , the law enforcement agencies , drop the ball, we need to hold them accountable for what they're doing to american families. otherwise, it is a david versus goliath story, times 28 all over again, all over the world.

    >> very quickly, patricia, what is going on with the family in brazil ? is it over now? can they continue to appeal in any way there to get this boy back? or is it done?

    >> the litigation in brazil is completely done. my hope is that the family will reach out to us and we'll immediately work on the circumstances for visitation and make sure that there's no other room for conflict involving the family.

    >> and at this point, they are saying in fact that you're not giving any leeway there?

    >> every reporter in brazil has my phone number so i know that they know how to get to me.


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