2017-03-27

A nightmare

It was a father’s nightmare. His wife said she wanted to take their son visit her parents for two weeks ... in South America.

 

David Goldman explains:

 

That’s all it was supposed to be. Two weeks. I didn’t relish the idea of being apart from my wife, Bruna, and our four-year-old son, Sean, not even for two weeks, but it was unavoidable. I had to work. I can handle it, I kept reminding myself. After all, I had clients scheduled aboard my charter fishing boat during the first week my wife and son would be gone. After that, I planned to join Bruna and Sean for the latter part of their vacation in Brazil, my wife’s birthplace. In a few days, we’d be back together as a family again.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

Just for two weeks

Goldman continues:

 

I loaded the suitcases — there were more than the usual number of them — into my Jeep Cherokee SUV, along with Bruna’s parents’ luggage. Although citizens of Brazil, my in-laws. Raimundo and Silvana Ribeiro, owned a condominium in New Jersey, and visited often, sometimes for a month or two at a time. The night before, we had attended a local carnival sponsored by St. Leo’s Church, and Bruna’s parents had been at our home the day of the trip, after going out to lunch with my parents. Everyone got along as usual, two happy families united as one, with no tension among any of us and never a cross word between us. Now Sean’s maternal grandfather, Raimundo — or Ray, as he was known in the United States — and his grandmother, Silvana, were returning to Brazil with Bruna and Sean.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

 

Rio de Janeiro

It wasn’t the first time during our four-year marriage that Bruna had visited her homeland. She and I had traveled to Brazil before Sean was born. Bruna took great pleasure in spending time with her friends in her old stomping grounds. I enjoyed surfing off the beautiful beaches of Barra, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. We both savored Brazil’s barbecues and delicious mangoes. Bruna took Sean to visit our extended family a few months after his birth, and had made the trip by herself for her grandmother’s funeral a few years earlier. More recently, in March 2004, she and a friend and fellow teacher at the school where Bruna taught went to Brazil during the school’s spring break. So it didn’t strike me as unusual for us to plan a trip during the summer, after Bruna completed her teaching responsibilities for the 2004 spring semester. We usually traveled as a family to Brazil twice a year, once during Bruna’s winter break and once during the summer. Just as any couple whose family members live in different locations, we made special efforts to enjoy time together with all of our relatives, especially after Sean was born. Although Rio was a dangerous place, as Bruna and her parents often reminded me, it was still her hometown in her native land and it was beautiful. We wanted Sean to be familiar with both cultures, and to know that he was part of something much bigger than himself.

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A nightmare

On Wednesday, June 16, 2004, I drove the family to Newark’s Liberty International Airport to begin their vacation. Under Brazilian law, when any one parent travels alone with a child to Brazil, the other parent or guardian is required to sign a letter of authorization. So before the trip, as part of normal procedures, I signed the release authorizing Bruna to take Sean out of the country for a limited period of time.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

Things seemed odd

Since I was going to see the two of them in a week or so, I didn’t think much of it at the time. Besides, I was busy planning Bruna’s thirtieth birthday party. As a surprise present for her, I hoped to have our kitchen redone while she was out of the country. I was also working on an itinerary for another family trip to Turnberry Isle in Florida — one that would include Bruna’s mom and dad — to celebrate her birthday in mid-August after we had all returned from Brazil. Ordinarily when we vacationed together, I made the arrangements. Having traveled as much as I had over the years, I found it easy to book all the family members’ flights and hotels, and handle all the other details myself. But this time, Bruna’s mom kept protesting, saying, “Oh, we can take care of that from Brazil.” This struck me as odd, but I thought, Okay, fine. We’ll make the arrangements from Brazil.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A nightmare

At the airport, after I got Sean comfortably situated from his stroller, I helped carry Bruna’s, Sean’s, and my in-laws’ suitcases into the busy Newark terminal. I assisted in getting all the suitcases checked in, then walked Bruna and Sean to the security area in front of the Jetway leading to their flight. With passengers bustling all around us, I kissed Bruna and Sean good-bye and embraced Bruna’s parents.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A nightmare

I watched as my family went through the initial identification checkpoint and started down the hallway toward their flight. Then, as we always did when one of us was traveling, Bruna and Sean stopped and turned toward me, and we used sign language for our final good-bye. I pointed to my eye, my heart, and then to Bruna and Sean, and mouthed the words “I love you.” Bruna and Sean pointed to their eyes, their hearts, and then back at me: “I love you.” Bruna turned and followed her parents down the Jetway, toward the security metal detector, pushing Sean in the stroller as she went. I watched them until I could no longer see them, and waited a few minutes longer in case they had forgotten anything or there was a last-minute flight cancellation. Then I returned to our vehicle and headed back to our home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. It was going to be long, lonely night.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A storybook romance

In many ways, ours had been a storybook romance. I met Bruna Bianchi Ribeiro in 1997 in Milan, Italy, where I was working as a fashion model and she was studying fashion. We moved back to New Jersey, where we were married in 1999, and in May 2000, Bruna gave birth to Sean. We had a beautiful marriage, an ideal little family; it was perfect in every way, and we were head over heels in love. At least so I thought.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

Everybody happy

The day after their flight, Bruna called from Brazil to let me know that she and the family and arrived safely. “Sean is so excited,” she gushed. “He’s eating mangoes and he just loves it here.” Bruna’s unusual emphasis on how happy Sean was to be back in Brazil seemed a bit over the top, but I was glad my wife and son were safe and sound and already enjoying their vacation. We talked briefly, then said our “I love you’s” and our good-byes.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A nightmare

On Sunday, June 20, Bruna called again. I could tell immediately from the tone of her voice that something was wrong, but I would not have guessed what she was about to say. “You’re a great guy, David, and a wonderful father to Sean. I have no regrets about our relationship and having Sean together.”

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

"It's over ..."

I didn’t even have time to wonder where Bruna was going with this line of thought, as she continued without a pause, almost as though following a script.

 

“Our love affair is over. I’ve decided to stay in Brazil,” she said. “I’m keeping Sean here with me.”

 

Whooom! It was as though the earth had suddenly dropped out from under me, and I was hanging in midair. “What? What! What are you talking about, Bruna?” I could not believe what I was hearing. Our love affair? What about our marriage? The tone of voice with which she said those words to me was one I had never before heard from her. She sounded cold, calculating, and unemotional — not at all like the upbeat, vivacious, passionate woman to whom I was married.

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A nightmare

I remember thinking, What is this? Where is this coming from? The person I loved, and envisioned loving for the rest of my life, until death do us part, had suddenly become as cold as ice.It got worse. Bruna had a list of demands. “You need to come here immediately,” she said. I want you to sign over the full rights of Sean to me. If you ever want to see Sean again, you need to fly to Rio de Janeiro immediately. I have a document my lawyer has drawn up, and you need to sign it.”

 

Lawyer? What lawyer? And how could she have secured such a document? She had been gone only a few days! It never occurred to me that this might have been a meticulously devised plan by Bruna and her parents in collusion with a Brazilian attorney. According to Bruna, the document she wanted me to sign was ten pages in length and spelled out several demands, including that Sean remain with Bruna and her family in Brazil, and that I surrender my legal role as Sean’s parent, in addition to giving full custody to Bruna. “And you need to agree never to press any criminal charges. Never to go to the police in the U.S. to file kidnapping charges, never file any custody papers in the U.S. courts, never file for separation or divorce in the United States, and you must do nothing that will interfere with my plans to obtain U.S. citizenship.”

 

My brain was reeling, my body convulsing; I felt nauseated. Bruna, what is going on here? I was shocked and devastated at the same time. “David, if you do any of those things and go against what I want — if you hire a lawyer — you will never see your son again, and you will spend all your money trying.”

 

From "A Father's Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home" by David Goldman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Viking, part of the Penguin Group.

A bittersweet reunion

What followed was a nightmare. Bruna remarried, became pregnant -- then tragically died in childbirth. Then Sean's grandparents announced they would not give up their U.S.-born grandson. David was begrudgingly permitted to come to Brazil and see his son. 

 

He describes that meeting:

 

Our first visit was wonderful. We played basketball and swam in the pool. He expressed his love and called me Dad. It was better than I dared hope for. His grandparents witnessed this and saw that although we were separated for so long, our bond was still very much intact.

 

They began a campaign described later by a federal Brazilian judge as "Practicing a pernicious process of parental alienation" upon Sean. If it were to have continued, he might no longer recognize me as his Dad. They always had someone right beside us often taping our visits and urging Sean to say and do things that would diminish our relationship. They even had a strange man jump between us in the pool attempting to create an awkward and strained visit. We weren't allowed to leave the compound. We weren't allowed to even eat lunch together. They would abruptly take him up to the apartment and end our visits on a whim.

 

Is the battle over?

Goldman details the grueling legal battle that ensued. It has not been easy for the smalltown charter-boat operator, as he describes:

 

The litigation initiated by Sean's abductors is ongoing in both countries. We have oral argument in the Supreme Court of New Jersey scheduled. They also have numerous pending applications before the courts in Brazil. Since 2008, my legal bills are around $400,000. That is after the hundreds of thousands already paid from 2004 to 2008. It is a terrible burden that causes many sleepless nights to say the least. I will most likely be carrying and trying to pay off this debt for the rest of my life.

 

What can they do?

International law has made the struggle even more difficult, says Goldman:

 

The Hague Convention Treaty on the Aspects of International Child Abduction is severely flawed and broken at best. The number of abducted children returned is dismal. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Poland as well as non-Hague Treaty nations such as Japan, which has never returned an abducted American child, are continuing to be complicit in international child abduction.

 

We have been fortunate to be assisted by Congressman Christopher Smith.

 

My advice to other parents in this predicament? Never give up. Try as best you can to live and function moment by moment, if need be. It's OK to smile, it's OK to laugh, it's OK to accept vulnerability, it's OK to break down and cry. But you must not give up hope. Do the best you can to live. The pain is so overwhelming and all consuming, but you must believe. Things will change. Believe!

 

 

 

A fun 12-year-old

As he describes in his book, the battle was bruising and expensive. However, after six years, Brazil's highest court ruled in favor of the boy's father. Goldman describes:

 

Sean came home to a home and bedroom that was virtually untouched. My hope and prayers were to re-kindle all the fond and familiar memories we had as a family prior to his abduction. It worked and was very helpful and settling to him.

 

Sean was very conflicted when we returned home together. He loved and trusted his abductors. He had no choice. But when he returned, he realized that these same people hadn't been truthful. Why did they do this? Why did they say so many things that weren't true? 

 

At first he didn’t call me “Dad,” I think, because to call me Dad again would be to break his allegiance with them. After all, when he called me “Dad” in Brazil the first time we saw each other in many years, it didn't go over too well with them.

 

However, It didn't take long before calling me “Dad” again just naturally flowed out of his mouth and lifted off another weight that had been placed on his little shoulders.

 

We celebrated last Christmas with family. We picked out a real tree together, put it up together and decorated it together. We woke up, opened presents and then we went on a little family vacation. It was as good as any Christmas holiday could be.

Did Dad pray?

How has this ordeal affected Goldman’s faith? Did God pay a role in all this?

 

There are several parts in A Father's Love in which I detail events of God's presence in my life. I always had a solid belief in God. I couldn't imagine it any other way. Whether I'm in a house of worship or a church or temple – or out at sea, God has a strong presence in my life.

 

As long as I can remember, I have always said a prayer before I go to sleep no matter where I am and do the same when I awake. I encourage Sean to do the same – even if it's privately when he's at a friend’s sleepover.

 

During this long battle I never asked “Why me?” or blamed God for the suffering caused to my son, myself or our family. I just kept asking Him for help.

 

When Sean and I reunited on Christmas Eve, God answered my prayers and the prayers of so many others – letting us know He was always with us. We must never give up hope … and always, always believe!

Home again

But now he’s home in the United States. What is Sean’s life like today?

 

Sean's life now is that of a typical boy. He has many friends, he is an honor student. He plays on basketball and baseball teams and is also on a swim team. His friends come over and he goes over to his friends' houses like a normal boy.

 

I own and operate a charter boat company in which I take clients out sport fishing. Sean likes to come along as the "Captain in Training" to help out, spend time on the water (which we both love) and catch fish.

 

He gave his one and only public interview recently to Meredith Vieira and spoke about how he believes the other abducted children should come home and how he hopes they can "hang in there."

 

He is a very bright and thoughtful boy who's been through way too much. His job is to just be a boy and he's doing fantastic at it!!

 

I just want him to be happy. He's had way too much sadness and pain in his young life. Little people shouldn't have such big problems.

 

Love, patience, truth

What advice would Goldman offer to parents fighting similar battles?

 

Be patient, be loving, seek counseling. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones. There is only one truth and it will eventually shine through.

 


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