It’s been seven years since Sean Goldman’s mother abducted him from his home in New Jersey to her native Brazil. It took his father, David Goldman, five years to get him back, but he did and Sean has now been in the U.S. for over two years. For the first time Sean has gone public with what it was like to lose his father and home country so abruptly and for so long. Read about it here (MSNBC, 4/25/12).
Put simply, what he describes is a course in parental alienation. Sean’s mother divorced David in Brazil, remarried, but died in childbirth when Sean was eight. Even with her gone, his mother’s Brazilian family refused to let him return to his father, so Sean was effectively a captive. Apparently it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
“I wasn’t angry, but I was confused,’’ he said. “Because where’s my dad?’’At that point, his Brazilian relatives sought to make permanent the fait accompli they themselves had created. In family law, we see this frequently – the effort to turn a child into an object that, if it’s in someone’s possession long enough, becomes theirs. The theory invariably is that, whatever wrong the parent has done, the child is now used to the situation which can therefore never change for fear of upsetting the child.
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.
“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.
We see the argument made in adoption cases in which a father tries to get custody of his child. No, he’s told, the child has been with the adoptive parents for two months, six months, a year, whatever, and so it would be against the “best interests of the child” to place him where he should have been all along – with his father.
We see it in paternity fraud cases. Yes, mother lied and John thinks he’s the dad when in fact Jim is. But the child has lived with John for two months, six months, a year, whatever, and so … you fill in the rest.
That’s what Sean Goldman’s Brazilian family argued to the Brazilian courts. “Sure, what his mother did was wrong; it violated the statutes of both the United States and Brazil as well as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and deprived a child of his father, extended family and friends, but so what? Sean’s been with us for several years, so that makes him ours, all else be damned.”
Reluctantly, and only with much diplomatic and economic pressure applied by the U.S., did the Brazilian courts finally do what they should have done years previously – order Sean’s return to his father’s care in the United States. As it turned out, that made his Brazilian relatives mad, and their behavior gives a good indication of why Sean’s better off here.
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.That’s how they treated an eight-year-old boy. They hadn’t gotten their way, so they took it out on the child. Nice.
“(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.’’
Fortunately, Sean’s been here for over two years now since his return from Brazil, and things have taken on a sense of normalcy.
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.’’You bet he is. David Goldman is a hero to more than just Sean. Few fathers have to do what David Goldman did. My guess is that on most days, normal life must seem like a breeze to him.
“Other dads might just be a dad, but he’s more than a dad,’’ he said.
The Sean and David Goldman case is over and justice prevailed in the end. But that end took five years to reach. The Hague Convention says abducted children are supposed to be returned within 60 days. Once again it failed. For half his life, Sean Goldman was an abducted child. Everyone knew where he was; everyone knew his abduction was illegal; everyone knew his father was fit and loving; everyone knew his place of residence was the U.S. And yet the system failed. It failed for no good reason, and a little boy suffered because of it.