David Goldman: A Father’s Love
By Jennifer Haupt
David Goldman, author of the new memoir A Father’s Love, went through every parent’s worst nightmare in 2004, when his four-year-old son Sean was abducted. Making matters worse, it was Goldman’s wife who took the boy to her hometown in Brazil and then informed Goldman she wanted a divorce. Here’s more from David about how his faith was tested when he lost his family, and how he found his son:
Jennifer Haupt: What did you learn about faith during the five years during which you fought to find him and bring him home? How did your faith in something bigger than yourself (God or otherwise) change?
David Goldman: I have always had a strong belief in God which was instilled in me at an early age. I didn’t and don’t attend services on a regular basis. I do pray daily, however. The interesting thing was that several people from various beliefs came to sort of “recruit” me into their faith by saying that it would be the only way to get through my ordeal and if I didn’t accept their faith they wouldn’t pray with me or for me and wouldn’t even listen to me. I wasn’t one of those folks that asked why – why me? What did I do to deserve this? In other words, I remained focused. I did and thought only of the things I could control. But asking God to give me strength and to keep my son safe was a daily request.
JH: Did you know that your wife was unhappy and thinking about leaving you, or was it total surprise when she called to say that she and Sean weren’t coming home from what was to be a two-week vacation in Brazil?
DG: My wife didn’t express any unhappiness about being married to me or living in America. The turn of events came as a complete shock to me. I had driven her, our son and her parents to the airport for what was supposed to have been a two week vacation. We expressed our love for each other as I wished them all a safe trip before I left the airport and they headed down the jet way. In fact, I was supposed to join them the last few days of the trip and we had planned to all fly back to the U.S. together.
JH: In essence, you lost your wife and your son – your entire family – unexpectedly. What kind of grieving process did you go through? How difficult was it to separate the grief from the anger at what your wife had done?
DG: Yes, I did. In the blink of an eye my world was shattered. But, I wouldn’t let the red ball of fury cloud my vision and deter me from bringing my son back home. It would have been easy to get so angry and depressed to the point of becoming a complete basket case. But where would that get me? I remember my dad once telling me when I was much younger that the thing that separates humans from all other living creatures isn’t only the use of a thumb, but the ability to reason. I knew I needed to stay calm, steadfast and rational with my thoughts and actions.
I couldn’t control the fact that my then-wife and her parents had kidnapped Sean, but I could control all my actions. I wouldn’t allow myself to dwell on the negative. I suffered greatly and spent many sleepless nights and many days alone in pain, but looked for small distractions, even if it took me away from the pain for a moment. Watching a sunrise, paddling a canoe or working long hours so I would be exhausted and get an hour of solid sleep helped a lot. Many folks suggested getting medication, but I wanted and needed to be sharp, not dulled, so I turned to work, nature and exercise for outlets. I realized that the person whom I loved and married was not who I thought she was. I could not expend any energy on her or why she did what she did. My focus turned solely to our son and doing whatever I could for us to be together.
JH: What were your biggest worries for your son, even though he was with his mother and grandparents?
DG: I knew he was suffering from being ripped away from me, his dad, his family and friends as well as the stable, loving home where he had lived his entire natural life prior to his abduction. To rip our son away was not only an illegal act, but also one of the most cruel and selfish acts any parent can do to their own child. Once I read the Brazilian court appointed psychological report, which documented the severe parental alienation he was being subjected to, I was even more concerned about Sean’s well being. When I read in the report that he was lacking self esteem and felt that he didn’t have the right to be happy, I was devastated! He was more of a possession than a person to them, which was on display when they dragged him through the streets of Rio amongst throngs of reporters and cameras the day of his hand over.
JH: What got you through the five years of frustration and disappointment, fighting in the Brazilian courts, before your son came home? Was there ever a time when people advised you to give up the fight? Did you ever consider giving up?
DG: To me, the only choice was to keep going and going until my son came home. It was our legal, moral and God-given right to be together as father and son. No one could deny us that right. With every obstacle and hurdle thrown at me my determination only heightened. Yes, a few people advised me to give up. A few said he was never coming home and I should give up and hope that when he’s older he’ll want to know me. I wouldn’t hear of it. I never once thought about giving up on my son.
JH: I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been when Sean came home on Christmas Eve 2009 and didn’t remember you. When was the first time he called you Dad again?
DG: Actually, we were finally able to have a few short visits together in Brazil prior to our Christmas Eve departure together from Brazil. The fist time we met, he called me dad, was playful and affectionate. However, his abductors witnessed his behavior and ratcheted up their pressure by attempting to turn him against me through a process known as parental alienation. They kept him up very late, yelled at him for calling me dad and even for hugging me. They said and did horrible things to him so he wouldn’t want to be with me. But our bond was still there, despite their behavior. The bond was formed during our time together during his first four years of life. They could not break that bond no matter what they did – damage it yes, but not break it. I understood it would take time. We went right into therapy when we got home to New Jersey. He started calling me dad about three days after our return home. Now the word, “Dad” flows off his tongue as if it had never left.
JH: What’s the one true thing you’ve learned about fatherhood during this journey?
DG: First, whether you are a father or mother, spending as much quality time as possible with your children is crucial. Connecting with them is the key. Listen to what they say and value it. Appreciate every moment you have together. Fathers are very important in the lives of their children. As a single father, I need to be strong and stoic, but also very tender, caring and compassionate. A lot of dads are the disciplinarian and/or the humorist, but dads need to be more. It’s okay to show a softer side. Our children learn from us and we need to lead by example.
David Goldman grew up in Ocean Township, New Jersey, the son of a charter boat captain. A graduate of Virginia Wesleyan College, Goldman found a career modeling. He now runs a charter boat business and does advocacy work on international child abduction.
Copyright © 2011, Psychology Today