FOR MORE THAN five years, David Goldman fought to get his son back from Brazil.
Now that they are back together in the U.S., Goldman has a parenting struggle ahead: How does a dad get to know his 9-year-old son again, especially a little boy whose mother has died and who has been transplanted to a country he hasn't seen since he was a preschooler?
"I kind of feel terrible for him," said Dr. Alan Hilfer, referring to Goldman's son, Sean. Hilfer, the director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center, in New York City, has been following media reports about the case.
"He's going to have a pretty hard time, even though I'm sure his dad will do the best he can."
The Goldmans were reunited Thursday in Rio de Janeiro and headed almost immediately to an airport to depart for the United States to resume life together.
The saga goes back to 2004, when Goldman's wife, Bruna Bianchi, took Sean, then 4, to her native Brazil. Goldman, of Tinton Falls, N.J., says that Bianchi was due back in two weeks but she never returned. She left Goldman, divorced him in Brazil, married another man and died in 2008 while giving birth to a daughter.
Goldman, who operates charter fishing boats, had been arguing for years that Sean belonged to him under an international treaty that sets procedures for dealing with child abductions.
After Bianchi died, Goldman's case started getting media attention in both countries - and then momentum in Brazil's court system. His son's stepfather, part of a family of well-connected lawyers in Rio de Janeiro, continued to oppose the boy's return until Wednesday. One of the stepfather's main arguments was that Sean had grown roots in Brazil and would be better off there.
Judges ultimately found that it was a case about abduction and not custody and returned the boy to Goldman.
People involved in the case say that Sean still has a tough adjustment ahead.
Other parents who've been reunited with children after long lapses said that the change can be heart-wrenching, even when there was regular contact, something Goldman has not had. Goldman, who dreams of taking his son fishing, was denied access to the boy until February and has seen him for no more than several hours at a time on a handful of occasions since then, and never alone.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who has traveled to Brazil several times with Goldman, said that the father and son bonded easily when they were together, even though he says that Sean's family in Brazil disparaged Goldman and took steps to make the transition more stressful.
Hilfer said that Goldman should spend time first alone with Sean, and gradually introduce him to his new American routine, waiting a few months to send him to school.
"He's a kid who's had many losses," Hilfer said. "There was the loss of his father, the loss of his mother. Now there's the loss of his extended family in Brazil."
Hilfer said that it's unlikely that Sean will remember much of the people or places he knew as a younger boy in New Jersey. A child that age should adapt, Hilfer said, but the first year or two will be lonely.
Hilfer said that the transition will be eased if Sean maintains contact with his maternal grandparents from Brazil. Goldman says that he would allow such contact, but his New Jersey-based lawyer, Patricia Apy, said that guidelines still have to be worked out.