For over four years my pleas for help had fallen on deaf ears after Sean was abducted. Eventually, people learned about my son’s case because of the publicity it received after my wife passed away in Brazil, but I was living my private hell just like every other parent whose child has been stolen from them. After the injustice of Sean’s abduction was exposed, the media ran with the story and I started to receive emails from other parents asking for help. These parents believed that the publicity of my case would not only raise awareness of the issue of international parental child abduction, but would also lay out a road map for them to succeed in recovering their own children.
What is the mission of the Bring Sean Home Foundation and why did you start it?
I was fortunate to be surrounded by a great group of passionate volunteers in addition to my family and friends. Together, all of us became educated on this issue and we quickly realized that others needed help. The Bring Sean Home Foundation (BSHF) began as a grass roots effort by friends and family to help me and Sean reunite, and then developed to provide assistance to other parents and families fighting similar battles for the simplest of things – their moral, legal and God-given right to be with their children. We will be there for them to provide the support they need to fight this battle.
What is your vision for the foundation? What do you hope it accomplishes in the long run?
We want to educate the public on the issue of international child abduction and work with elected officials to push for reforms which we hope will lead to meaningful change in the way our government works to ensure the safe and prompt return of abducted children. Right now parents whose children are abducted fight against overwhelming odds to even see their children in many cases, let alone bring them back to their home countries, and this needs to change. We expect to be a leading voice on this issue and to provide support to parents who need help. BSHF raises public awareness of individual cases and provides a support network to guide parents through this difficult time in their lives.
In the last three years alone there have been almost 5,000 American children abducted to foreign countries and the numbers continue to increase at an alarming rate. The BSHF is working hard to make a difference by preventing future abductions and pushing for legislation that will reunite families by bringing more abducted children home to their parents.
What have been some of the greatest challenges in going from a private father to a public advocate?
I am incredibly grateful to be reunited with my son, Sean. Now the issues I face are just like any other parent trying to be the best mother or father they can be to their children. I could have disappeared out of the public eye after Sean came home, but I felt a greater calling because Sean and I could not accept this gift without giving back. Other moms and dads need help. If the notoriety and publicity of my case means I’m in the unique position of advocating for others and being the voice that these parents do not have, than that is what I will do. At home, I am an ordinary dad and Sean is a normal 11-year old boy and despite the visibility of our case we just try to stay focused on being normal. Sean’s job is to be a regular child, who enjoys playing baseball, water sports and spending time with his family and friends. My job is to keep it that way. For the most part, I’m able to be both without taking time away from my fatherly obligations. Time management and setting priorities are the key to making it work.
What inspires you to keep going despite all the challenges and adversity?
Despite everything that Sean and I have been through, the driving force through all of it was and continues to be my love for my son. In my case, the people I was up against threw everything they had at me to destroy my life and keep Sean and me apart, but it didn’t work. Through all of this, more than anyone, Sean was the real victim because he was being selfishly deprived of a relationship with his father. I drew inspiration from the love and devotion I have for my son. After my story became public, I was moved by the outpouring of support I received from perfect strangers, many of whom volunteer their time now for the Bring Sean Home Foundation. I walked in the shoes of these suffering families for nearly six years and must do what I can now to help them.
You’ve had to re-connect with your son after spending years apart? How have you done that? Any tips for parents trying to connect with their own children?
Parents need to talk with their children. Parents need to spend quality time with their children. In our case, we can’t dwell on the past because we can’t change it, and nothing can ever give us back those precious 5 ½ years we lost. My advice is to build off of the bond you had with your child at an early age. Or take the opportunity and create that special bond now. Children are resilient and they want to love and be loved. They will see and feel your commitment to them through your actions. Show them that no matter what happened and what has been said about you to them, your love is unconditional. Be patient. We can’t ask why me? Why us? We have to accept what was and is and move forward. That was my experience and also the experience of other left-behind parents who have succeeded in recovering their abducted children. The love shared and the bond created will always be the foundation for sustaining relationships with our children.
How can regular, everyday fathers be Architects of Change in their children’s lives?
The same way I’m doing it because despite the publicity of my son’s abduction I’m just an ordinary parent like so many others. My advice is for fathers to lead by example. Be a part of your children’s lives. Moments are fleeting and they will grow up and go out on their own before we know it. Put away the machismo, and show tenderness. A father can display strength and stoicism, but compassion and tenderness also are very valuable traits to instill in our children. We can always try to be a better parent. We all make mistakes, but we must learn from our failures. Accept vulnerability and don’t be too proud to seek advice when you feel you need it. We are shaping the lives of the future.