For all the drama and emotional trauma that accompanied the handover in Brazil of 9-year-old Sean Goldman to his American father Thursday, there was something of the supernatural to the Christmas Eve reunion.
“It’s a miracle,” David Goldman told TODAY's Meredith Vieira in the only interview the New Jersey man has granted since arriving with Sean at an undisclosed location in Orlando, Florida. “There was 364 other days that he could've been, if he ever were going to come home. But it was Christmas Eve. Somebody's up there for sure. That's amazing.”
Goldman, Sean and some of Sean's American cousins spent the long holiday weekend in Orlando, visiting Disney World and getting reacquainted.
“He’s with his cousins, and they're having fun, and he's loved — very, very loved,” said Goldman.
During the 9-hour flight home, Sean was sleepy from the dramatic, as well as chaotic, scene outside the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janiero early Thursday. His Brazilian stepfather and other relatives paraded Sean past the media to protest a Brazilian court order that Sean be returned to Goldman, his biological father.
When Sean was 4, his mother took him home to her native Brazil for a two-week vacation. But she never returned, divorcing Goldman and marrying a lawyer from a prominent and influential family. When she died last year during childbirth, her Brazilian husband moved to adopt Sean.
The Brazilian family fought court rulings in the United States and international treaties upholding David Goldman’s custody rights as Sean’s father. It was not until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama took up his cause early this year that the case moved from local Brazilian courts to the nation’s federal courts.
Looking ahead, not back
Goldman told Vieira that he hopes Sean can put that ugly scene in Rio de Janeiro behind him.
“I hope he doesn't have lifelong nightmares of that day,” Goldman said, recounting the agony of watching Sean crying as the cameras pressed close around him. “My heart has been breaking, and has been broken over and over, and over, and over through this whole terrible ordeal. I'll never understand them. I will never. I don't think anybody who has rational logic and true love can ever grasp that spectacle that they created out there. For what? Why?”
David had last seen Sean in June in Brazil. Vieira asked what it was like to see him again, knowing that they would be returning home together.
“Well, he was very hot. And he was just saying, ‘I'm very hot,’ like talking to me like we've spoken for a very long time. He didn't ever, ever once say, ‘I don't want to go with you, I don't want to be with you.’ He had no resistance at all. But at the same time, he was in a great deal of pain. I mean, what he had just experienced, it's unfathomable.”
Goldman lives in Tinton Falls, N.J., and, he said, Sean was concerned about how much snow there was there and how cold it might be.
“He was saying, ‘I need to get boots. I need a winter coat,’ ” Goldman said. “He's been envisioning it. He's been imagining it. So, I was just responding and reacting as best I could to keep him calm, and to keep reassuring him that I love him ... I just wanted to, of course, pick him up like I do every single time I see him.”
Goldman said if there was anything positive about the way Sean was handed over, it was that people weren’t fighting in the street over him.
“There wasn't anybody trying to hold him back, or a mob scene trying to, you know, shout things and create a riot. It wasn't that all. So, that was a good point,” Goldman told Vieira. “It was just basically a little boy who was being dragged through a bunch of cameras and media. There was no tug-of-war, no fighting or anything. So, in that respect, that was as good as it could have been.”
Just the same, Goldman said of his son, “He was still terrified.”
Still, he said, the timing of the handover remains a thing of wonder.
“If some Hollywood producer was going to write this, and have this whole journey come to the end how it did, they would say, 'What, are you kidding? No one would believe that.' I wouldn't believe it,” Goldman said. “And that would almost ruin the movie if they threw that in there. But it's amazing. It's truly incredible.”