Reunited with his son Sean for the past two years after a five-year international abduction case, David Goldman responded Friday to criticism from his son’s Brazilian grandmother over Sean Goldman’s first interview since he returned to the United States.
Sean, 11, spoke with NBC’s Meredith Vieira in his first public comments since his dramatic return to his father on Christmas Eve in 2009. The interview, which will air on “Dateline” Friday at 10 p.m. ET, has been called “cruelty” and “an exhibition’’ by Sean’s Brazilian grandmother, Silvana Bianchi. David Goldman appeared on TODAY Friday to speak with Natalie Morales.
“I think an exhibition is when they paraded my son through the streets in Brazil the last day, when he was supposed to be handed off to his dad coming back to America,’’ Goldman retorted. “Who’s cruel and who’s an exhibitionist? Just review those clips of that scene (where) they dragged Sean through the streets.’’
On Christmas Eve 2009, Sean left Rio de Janeiro to board a plane to Orlando with his father. As they made their way to the plane, the 8-year-old was besieged by cameras from all angles while he wept in the street: His Brazilian family had exposed him to the media in protest of the court order that returned him to David Goldman’s custody. The two now share their home in Tinton Falls, N.J.
Goldman 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 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.
Bianchi and Sean’s Brazilian stepfather, João Lins e Silva, are appealing in Brazilian court for the ruling that sent Sean back to the United States to be overturned. They also have a lawsuit appealing the 2011 ruling by a New Jersey court denying a request for visitation. Bianchi claims her civil rights are being violated because she has not been allowed to visit Sean.
‘How can I trust these people?’
“She’s been allowed from the beginning when Sean and I returned before she started these lawsuits,’’ Goldman said. “We tried to open up a dialogue and communication on how she can participate and take a good, healthy role in Sean’s life. That would include meeting with his therapist and recognizing me as his dad.
“Essentially they sued me here for custody. They wanted liberal vacations with him, and how can I trust these people knowing that as we speak, they’re filing suits in Brazil to get him back, and if we didn’t have the highest levels of this government and millions of people in our country who I’ll be forever grateful for advocating on our behalf, he would still be there right now as an abducted American child.’’
Goldman also recalled his five-year fight to have Sean returned to his custody, which reached the highest levels of Brazilian court and included the involvement of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ordeal also featured emotional interactions for David with a son who didn’t know how hard his father was working to secure his return. Sean told Vieira that he was more confused than angry at the time, and afraid to ask his Brazilian family why his father was not in their lives.Video: Goldman: There was a great deal of pain (on this page)
“It was very painful,’’ David said. “The first time I saw him after nearly five years, he looked at me and asked me where have I been all this time. It wasn’t his job or position to know the fight. His job is to just be a little boy. He was told that I didn’t love him, that I abandoned him, that I never wanted him, and then he became afraid to even ask because the answers that he got were just too painful. So he had to just succumb to the abductors, who are very manipulative and narcissistic and very cruel.’’
‘He wants to be an example’
Sean is now an honors student who plays on two baseball teams, and it was his decision to come forward and speak publicly about the ordeal for the first time. In his own way, he wants to be part of fighting for the cause that his father worked so passionately to shed light upon over the five-year ordeal.
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“He wanted to just to get it off his chest and say what he needed to say and then let’s go back and be a little boy again,’’ Goldman said. “He really wants to be an example of what needs to happen, and that’s to return these children to their rightful parents, their rightful countries, and we have to stop international child abduction. Sean is living proof that the children need to come back home as quickly as possible.’’
Goldman’s book, “A Father's Love: One Man's Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home,” has just been released in paperback, and he continues to fight for the return of children abducted internationally. In the last three years, nearly 5,000 new cases of American children abducted across international borders have been opened, according to Goldman. Also, the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act,” aimed at returning American children home who are victims of international abduction, is currently working its way through Congress.
“(Sean) has suffered too much, I’ve suffered too much, and these children right now as we’re sitting here are suffering and so are their families,’’ he said.Video: Goldman: He hasn’t called me ‘Dad’ (on this page)
It took Sean a little while to refer to David as “Dad,’’ when he first returned, but the two now have a very close bond. David is also getting married for a second time, to a woman with two sons from a previous relationship.
“We’re doing the best we can just to be normal,’’ Goldman said. “That’s all we want. We want our kids to be happy. We want to just be normal, typical American family and move on with our lives knowing our role is to help get these other families reunited.’’
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