For a Private Man, a Public Stage is Where He Fights For His Son

Asbury Park Press
For a Private Man, a Public Stage is Where He Fights For His Son
A father’s four-year battle to regain Sean picks up steam
by Bill Handelman
February 19, 2009

avid Goldman is not on tour. He is not promoting anything, not selling anything. He is not interested in whatever cheap celebrity might come from making the rounds on the television talk show circuit.

Nor is this his idea of fun. He just wants his son back, and exposure is the means to the end. If it involves shuttling back and forth between meetings and interviews, down to Washington one day, up to New York the next, so be it. If it cuts into sleeping and eating, that’s a price he’s willing to pay.

He just wants his son back. That’s all he could think about for 4 ½ years, lying awake at night, this great sense of urgency taking over his life. That’s all he could talk about, even when no one was listening.

Can you imagine what it must feel like, being completely shut out of your only child’s life for 4 ½ years? Your former wife takes him from you, saying she’ll be back in two weeks. Next thing you know she’s filing for divorce in Brazil and marrying another man. Then, six months ago, she dies suddenly and still you are not allowed to see your son. Can you imagine?

What goes through your head when you finally do get to see him and he asks you where you’ve been all this time?

Broken heart and all, Goldman takes the high road. It’s complicated, he tells the boy. The courts, he says, it’s difficult. And he leaves it at that.

He doesn’t say anything about the stepfather or the grandparents or the judges who have denied Goldman access to his son all these years — in clear violation of the international treaty Brazil signed years ago.

No, he doesn’t say anything bad about anybody. He doesn’t go into the seven times he has traveled to Brazil, all fruitless journeys. He doesn’t mention the $350,000 he has gone through in legal fees and travel expenses.

Sean is 8 years old. Why would a father want to burden his son like that? Why would anyone want to poison a child’s mind?

For 4 ½ years, Goldman wondered about this, day and night. Why did the rare phone conversations sound so rehearsed? Why was there always whispering in the background? Why were all the gifts returned, unopened?

Why was this little boy now asking him where he had been all this time?

“The anguish in his face, it was so painful to see,” Goldman says.

He was allowed to spend time with Sean last week in Rio, in the gated complex where he lives. It was a court-ordered visitation. The first day things went well. You could hear it in Goldman’s voice, despite a bad connection.

The second day was different. Goldman believes his son was kept up late the night before. He believes the boy was heavily coached.

Think about this: Sean’s attitude toward his father changes overnight because someone might have been filling the boy’s head with lies.

No one knows this to be true for sure, because the stepfather and the grandparents are not sharing their feelings. The Brazilian press, long forbidden from pursuing the story, has defied the court order only on occasion. “People are saying the gag has been lifted,” says Goldman. “It hasn’t.”

In this country, Goldman’s supporters have waged a highly successful media campaign. The breakthrough finally came when NBC dedicated an hour of prime-time television to the case on “Dateline” three weeks ago. Congressman Chris Smith saw the show, picked up the phone, and set up a meeting with Goldman. Smith would accompany him to Brazil. He would be there for him.

Before he left, Smith introduced a resolution in the House. A week later there would be a resolution in the Senate. Soon politicians of every stripe would be jumping on board. “It’s great that it’s a bipartisan thing,” says Goldman.

There would be a victory in a courtroom in Brazil . . . a meeting with the Brazilian ambassador in Washington . . . meetings with state department officials . . . requests for interviews, phones ringing off the hook . . . now there’s a good possibility he’ll be sitting down face-to-face with Secretary of State Clinton in the next 10 days . . . now there are plans for a demonstration across the street from the White House March 17, the day Brazil’s president is scheduled to meet with President Obama.

Everything is happening so fast.

Imagine what this must be like for David Goldman, a regular guy from Tinton Falls. All these years he has been begging for someone to listen to him, anyone. How frustrating must it have been, people listening but not hearing. They could neither make out the cry for help, nor grasp the scope of the injustice.

So he makes the rounds on the talk show circuit, sharing an intensely private pain on an excruciatingly public stage. Whatever it takes, he figures.

People now listen to him, and they hear what he’s saying. He has made great strides. But is this enough? He wonders.

“Every day I wake up, Sean’s not tucked in his bed down the hallway,” he says.

That’s all the man cares about. That’s all he ever cared about.

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