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Parental abduction becomes dad’s cause
Fought to regain son taken to Brazil
RED BANK, N.J. | Sixteen months after 9-year-old Sean Goldman was led through a crush of journalists and onlookers on a Rio de Janeiro street to be handed over to his father - completing a five-year ordeal that sparked tension in U.S.-Brazil diplomacy - he has a new life as a fifth-grader and youth baseball player in New Jersey.
And his father, a former model and current fishing boat charter captain and real estate agent, has moved from fighting in Brazil’s courts for his son’s return to becoming a prominent advocate for the greater international cause: trying to get children abducted to another country by one parent reunited with the parent left behind.
David Goldman’s memoir about the saga, “A Father’s Love,” was released this month by Viking. With the publication of the book, he’s given his first extensive media interviews since shortly after Sean was returned to him.
“It’s really incredible,” Mr. Goldman said in an interview in a cafe in Red Bank, not far from his home in Tinton Falls. “It’s perfect. From what it was to where we are, it’s beautiful.”
Mr. Goldman said he knew that it was legally right for his son to return to him and that he’d do his best as a father. But he figured that the boy would want to go back to Brazil, where he’d spent more than half his life. But so far, Mr. Goldman said, Sean hasn’t asked to return, even for a visit.
But once in Brazil she called home: She was staying, and so was the child.
One of the mysteries left unsolved by Mr. Goldman’s book is exactly why she left and how long she may have been planning the departure.
He said in an interview that’s because he doesn’t know the answer. It seems clear to him that she had planned to leave him; she took nearly all her clothes and didn’t leave behind the spare key to her parents’ New Jersey condo.
Mr. Goldman began trying to use the Hague Convention dealing with child abductions to try to get Sean back. The international treaty, of which the U.S. and Brazil are signatories, seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts in the country where a child originally lived - in this case, the United States. For years, on Mr. Goldman’s trips to Brazil to try to enforce his rights, he wasn’t even granted visits with the boy.
It was after that that Mr. Goldman’s story began getting the attention of the media.
Bianchi’s death and Mr. Goldman’s continuing legal fight made the case perhaps a more compelling drama - but it’s hardly a unique situation. Advocates say there are some 3,000 abducted U.S. children currently in other countries.
The television accounts of Mr. Goldman’s plight got the attention of officials who had the power to do something about it.
It wasn’t until after U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a New Jersey Republican, traveled to Brazil with Mr. Goldman, and President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with their counterparts in Brazil that Sean was returned - over the steadfast objections in court of his stepfather and maternal grandparents in Brazil.
As he tried to bring back his son, the calm Mr. Goldman repeatedly said that he would allow his son’s Brazilian grandparents to see the boy.
It was Dec. 24, 2009 when the turnover finally happened. On that day, Sean and his Brazilian family marched a few blocks through a crowded street to their meeting at a U.S. consulate in Rio. It was live on television in Brazil and the United States. Mr. Goldman saw that as a way for the family in Brazil to exploit their heartache.
“They dragged him through the streets, for God’s sake,” Mr. Goldman said. “That shows what they care about - and it wasn’t him.”
Once the boy was on a private jet - provided by NBC, which had covered their story - and heading to Florida, he finally relaxed, his dad said.
So far, visits with his grandparents in Brazil haven’t happened. And in March, the boy’s grandfather, Raimundo Carneiro Filho, died of lung cancer in Rio de Janeiro. His widow, Silvana Bianchi, said he died “with immense sorrow in his soul” because he never got to see his grandson again.
But to Mr. Goldman, it wasn’t so simple.
He says he’s willing to grant Ms. Bianchi time with her grandson so long as it follows his conditions - including that she drop her appeals in Brazilian court seeking to have the boy returned there.
In February, a New Jersey judge sided with Mr. Goldman on the matter.
Mr. Goldman said that he does his best to speak only kindly to his son of the boy’s mother and maternal grandparents.
He offered to let the boy call his grandmother after her husband died but Mr. Goldman said Sean decided to send a card instead. Relatives in Brazil put too much pressure on the boy when they’ve talked on the phone in the past, Mr. Goldman said.
Sergio Tostes, the lawyer for Silvana Bianchi, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. No contact information was immediately available for Ms. Bianchi herself.
Mr. Goldman says he’s mostly concentrating on his son.
He’s taught him to ride a bike and swing a baseball bat and worked on a lot of homework. Despite not having used English regularly for years, he’s getting A’s and B’s, his father said.
Mr. Goldman wells up with pride when he holds up a small video camera to show footage he took of Sean playing with his puppy and Sean whacking a base hit in his first time at the plate in organized baseball.
But besides being a dad, Mr. Goldman is also continuing to work on the issue of international child abductions. He hopes his book brings attention to the cause; he’s scheduled to testify about it before a Congressional hearing later this month.
And in April, when Brazilian inspectors came to check up on Sean and the condition of their home, Mr. Goldman presented them with a letter from parents from six countries whose children have allegedly been abducted to Brazil.
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