Video: Bring Sean home

By Meredith Vieira
Dateline NBC
updated 3/15/2009 7:41:53 PM ET 2009-03-15T23:41:53

David Goldman: I can never describe the love I have for my son -- there are no words.

Through anguished tears, a father made a desperate plea:

David Goldman: Who can help me? Who can help? I just need help.

That was David Goldman on Dateline six weeks ago – crestfallen. This was David a few days ago -- grateful, as he listened to passionate speeches supporting a house resolution that calls on the brazilian government to immediately return his abducted son sean.

Rep Chris Smith, R-N.J.: Brazil's only legitimate and legal option now, as it has been, is to effectuate Sean's return. And it must be done now.

Rep Walter Jones, R-N.C.: This is not what the world should be about. The world should be about trying to bring families together.

The resolution passed unanimously, and yesterday, hundreds of people - many who traveled by bus from New Jersey - gathered in Washington, D.C. for a rally to offer David more support.

Their voices echoed onto the lawn of the White House, where President Obama, who was meeting with Brazil's President Lula, also raised David's case.

For David, a former international model from New Jersey, the mounting political pressure is humbling. But he says he's been living a nightmare ever since June of 2004, when his wife Bruna took 4-year-old Sean on vacation to her native Brazil - and never came back. For years, his only contact with his son was an occasional phone call.

Sean: Dada?

David: yeah?

Sean:  I love you forever

David: I love you forever, buddy. We're best friends. Who's your best friend?

Sean: You.

Last August, the story took a shocking turn when Bruna died after giving birth. That made David Sean's only surviving biological parent. But Bruna's second husband, a Brazilian lawyer whose specialty is family law, got a court to give him temporary custody, saying Sean needed stability -- and he did it without even bothering to notify David that Bruna was dead.

Rep. Smith: The cruelty continues.

David's story outraged Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.

Rep. Smith: I'm a dad, and I know what it's like to love and cherish your children. My own involvement began when I actually saw the "Dateline" show. And when David made his appeal for help at the end of the show, both my wife and I were so moved, I was on the phone the next morning.

David Goldman: We sat down and he looked me right in the eyes and he said, "Next time you have to go to Brazil, I'm going with you. Wherever you go, I go, like brothers."

Just three days later, the congressman was on a plane with David, heading to Brasilia, Brazil's capital city. Smith had a stern message for Brazilian officials -- a reminder that by not returning Sean, the country is violating a treaty that deals with international parental child abduction.

Rep. Smith: The reputation of Brazil is on the line here. Abductions are serious crimes. And international treaties are sacred. This isn't rocket science. This man needs to be reunited with his son.

As David accompanied Smith to meetings with key Brazilian officials, he clung to a collection of photos and cards -- Bruna had given him this one just six months before she took off with Sean.

David (reading): "You are my one true love. Underlined. I love you with all my heart. Happy Anniversary." I did nothing but love my wife and son

The lonely moments ... The quiet tears and deep breaths  ... It's all part of what has become a sad, daily routine for David. But one of his greatest tests came at a tense court hearing, where he came face-to-face for the first time with Joao Paulo Lins E Silva, the man battling him for his son.

Rep. Smith: They were facing each other, and I watched David. You could see that he was close to tears a few times, but he held that in check.

Though the press was kept in the hallway, Congressman Smith was allowed to observe. After five long hours, he emerged with hopeful news.

Rep. Smith: I think we had a very positive first step outcome today. Thankfully, David will have the opportunity to visit his son.

Finally, after four and half devastating years, David allowed himself to exhale just a little --  imagining his little boy back in his arms.

David Goldman: I'm just gonna-- I'm gonna lay my eyes upon my son and try to do whatever I can to keep it together.

In court, Lins E Silva had agreed to the visitation, but as David prepared to see Sean  -- who is now 8-years-old -- his emotions fluctuated wildly from excited anticipation to frightened skepticism.  He had been granted visits before, but never got to see his son.

Bracing himself for another letdown, he asked Congressman Smith to come along for emotional support.  But the only emotion that February morning was joy, as a father and son tenderly reunited.

David Goldman: He gave a wave and a smile and I just walked over and I ran, and I picked him up. I hugged him, told him I love him, I miss him. It was beautiful, and I just kept looking at him, I couldn't take my eyes off him .

Rep. Smith: I took this picture about an hour, one hour after their first reunion after 4.5 years. The joy on both of their faces, as I think all can see, is compelling. There was a great bond between this dad and his son.

David and Sean's deep bond was not only intact -- it was as if they'd never been apart at all.

David Goldman: Sean called me "Dad" and "Dada."  First he called me "Dada." And then he started calling me "Dad," which I just wanted to bawl and start crying, like "Oh my God," I hadn't heard that in so long. We were in the pool and he was climbing all over me. And at one point he said "Hug me with maximum force. Maximum force. Hug me with maximum force." And he goes "Again, maximum force. Max -"  So I squeezed him again.  And - and he goes "Again, maximum force." So I squeezed him again. And I just didn't ever want that to stop.

But it was so bittersweet -- along with joy, David saw pain and confusion on his little boy's face.

David Goldman: he's tormented. He's conflicted. Why won't they just let me go home with him?  Why would they do this to us for so long? Why do they do that to him?

And after two days of visiting for several hours at a time, David had to say goodbye again -- not knowing when he'd be back.

David Goldman: We both just turned at the same time. And our eyes locked. And neither of us said a word. But that connection is there. Just locked.  I feel so bad for him.

Emotionally drained, David took a red-eye back to New Jersey, and immediately got on a train to Washington, D.C., where he met privately with Congressman Smith and Brazil's ambassador to the U.S.

David's fight for Sean was about to escalate to a fever pitch ... At the highest levels of government ... And with the Brazilian family who is fighting to keep Sean finally speaking out, it would become more contentious than ever.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: He's been very brave, as he has fought to have his son returned to him, and he has gone not just the extra mile, but mile after mile.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took time to make a personal call to David in Rio de Janeiro, where he was dealing with court matters related to his case.

David Goldman: She said as parent to parent, I want to do what I can to help you and Sean be back together, because this case is so egregious and that the solution could be the beginning of better solutions and continuing resolutions of children that have been internationally abducted.

The State Department says David's case is just one of 50 involving American parents who are seeking the return of children wrongfully retained in Brazil. 

It has cited Brazil for three years in a row now for not meeting its obligations under a treaty called the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, which requires countries who sign it - Brazil is one --to promptly return abducted children to their home country.

When Clinton voiced her concern about David's case to Brazil's foreign minister, it quickly got the attention of people connected to Joao Paulo Lins E Silva, the man who has temporary custody of Sean in Brazil.

Sergio Tostes: This is not good for the relation of two countries. It escalated to a degree that is absolutely insane, insane, it is a family thing.

Sergio Tostes is part of a team of 10 high-powered Brazilian attorneys representing Lins E Silva, who married Sean's mother Bruna in 2007.

After months of silence, both Lins E Silva and Bruna's family have decided to tell their side of the story, turning to media outlets in Brazil.  Many have not reported it until now.

In a splash of TV, newspaper and magazine reports, including one in which Sean beams from the cover, the family reveals details about his life in Brazil.  He loves soccer -- and swimming -- and is very close to his grandma Silvana, Bruna's mother.

When he grows up, the family says Sean wants to be a cook just like his grandma -- or a lawyer, just like Lins E Silva, who they say he calls "dad."

Sergio Tostes: There are two fathers. I don't deny that David loves his son. He loves his son, of course he does. Just Joao Paulo loves his son. He has two fathers that love him.

Lins E Silva argues that because he's been part of Sean's life for four years now, he  has just as much right to raise Sean as his biological father does.  He has been living with Sean since early 2005 -- which was just six months after Bruna left David and took Sean to brazil.

And, Tostes says Lins E Silva deserves credit for stepping up to the plate after Bruna's tragic death last august.

Sergio Tostes: He was the one who gave Sean the comfort at that very difficult period. Can you imagine someone coming to an 8-year-old boy and saying your mother passed away? There are two ways to define a father - either by blood, or by affection.

Tostes also maintains that neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - or any other politician who is rallying on David's behalf - should be involved, because in the family's opinion, Bruna never abducted Sean, and this isn't a Hague Convention case. 

Sergio Tostes: There are a lot of people unduly involving themselves in this case, and making this a case between Brazil and the United States. That was not a case of abduction. There has been no abduction whatsoever. In this specific case, the Hague Convention does not apply.

David Goldman's case is the quintessential example of a violation of the Hague treaty.

Congressman Chris Smith says not only is the case ironclad, but if the courts in Brazil don't uphold the country's obligation under the Hague Convention to return Sean, Brazil will be sending a dangerous message.

Rep. Smith: The government has the responsibility and the duty to see that the Hague convention on child abduction is properly adhered to - or why sign it?  Does Brazil wanna become known as the place where child kidnappers have free rein and can exploit their own judicial system and the rule of law to retain false custody?  I hope not.

But the Brazilian family believes that Sean's case should be settled in a family court in Brazil, where he now lives - and be treated like a normal custody dispute.

Sergio Tostes: The issue is Sean. What is best for the little boy? Let's have David and Joao Paulo discuss custody in the proper court. If the court decides that it is more appropriate, irrespective of this whole dramatic thing, that David is more fit to be the father, then he will have the son.

David Goldman: Why don't they just say "David, Sean needs to be with you, we understand that you are this father?" It's simple. It's a parent's right to be with their child. Sean is MY son. He's got MY blood running through his veins, and if they really cared for Sean, they wouldn't be putting him through this at all.

David says the family tells two different stories.  Just before he arrived in Brazil last Tuesday for a court-ordered psychological evaluation, he was hit with an avalanche of allegations from the family, as they claimed in news reports that among other things, he doesn't really care about his son and only wants money.

Bruna's mother even suggested her daughter had feared David because "There are times when he's very violent and he punches and breaks the closet," A charge that incenses David's parents.

Ellie:  He's not the person that they're depicting.

Barry: When Bruna was alive, she never said any of those things, making up all those outrageous stories about what was going on here, it's just absurd.

DavidGoldman: All the allegations are lies. They're throwing anything up in the air and hoping it sticks. It's very sad, but, you know, I'm not going to go down their mudslinging path. My focus is my son.

Former assistant U.S. Secretary of State Bernard Aronson, who is now among the circle of Washington insiders advising David, sees the barrage of negative accusations as a desperate move.

BernardAronson: I've not seen a single shred of evidence that David Goldman wasn't a loving, caring, responsible father. I think this is just a power play. They want to keep this child in Brazil. And they don't have the legal right to do so.

It was a tense week for David in Rio -- with Brazilian media constantly camped outside his hotel -- and early this morning, an "Anti-David" rally organized by Bruna's brother. 

Still, despite the firestorm of international controversy that surrounds this 8-year-old boy, David and Sean were allowed a few short visits, re-connecting over the simplest of things.

DavidGoldman: He still loves Twizzlers, he was so happy when I bought him the Twizzlers because we used to see movies a lot at home and he loved popcorn and Twizzlers. And you know for me, it's always just the best thing, to be with my son.

Yet, just as it was when David saw Sean last month, for the first time in four and a half years, these visits were painfully bittersweet.

DavidGoldman: The bitter part is always having to leave him there, in a place that he shouldn't be. This environment is so strict, so stringent, it's diminishing any real bonding of a parent or child. And it is no way of reuniting or creating a strong father and son bond, and they know that. This has gotta stop. He's gotta come home.

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