Monday, January 03, 2005
Persistence and love bring father and daughter together
After many years, Hawthorne father gets an opportunity to prove his feelings for a long-lost daughter.
By Melissa Milios Daily Breeze
For 17 years, Majid Barghi has kept his hopes and part of his heart in a big, white box.
Inside, on hundreds of legal documents, phone records and other official papers, is the disjointed story of the Hawthorne resident's quest to reunite with his daughter, Kristine, who at age 2 was whisked away by her mother to Sweden. Years of transcontinental wrangling for custody followed, complicated by questions of international jurisdiction.
Kristine is 19 now. Like many children of divorced parents, she grew up wondering why her dad didn't try harder, why he didn't call or come to see her more often.
"I felt like he didn't care about me," she said. "I felt like he didn't want to have contact with me, and then I got mad. So I didn't want to talk to him."
This holiday season, more than a decade after their last meeting in a Swedish courtroom, Kristine is in Hawthorne, visiting the father she thought never cared. And Barghi is opening up his box of documents to try to prove to her that he never stopped.
"I couldn't do anything except document," Barghi said. "I thought, 'I have to make a journal for myself, and to someday show it to my daughter.' "
The journal begins with a birth certificate, showing Kristine was once Anna Kristine, the child of Iranian-born Barghi and his young, European wife. They met in a bar in Oregon where he was attending university, and 30 days later they were married.
Though they didn't have much money, he said, they had a respectable life. After Barghi finished college, the couple moved to Southern California, so he could look for work.
But not long after Kristine was born, both parents agreed to a legal separation. Kristine celebrated her second birthday in Oregon, and her mother sent Barghi a photograph.
The next thing he received, he said, was a postcard from Europe.
Kristine's mother, Barghi alleges, took Kristine to live abroad without his permission and then divorced him in a Swedish court.
"She told the court that because I'm half-Iranian, she was afraid that I would take our daughter to Iran," said Barghi, who remarried in 1991 to Adelaida, a Peruvian woman. They have lived in the Los Angeles area ever since, and have four young children.
Barghi estimated that over the past 17 years, he's spent more than $150,000 in legal fees and travel expenses, trying to contact and get to know his daughter.
His efforts were frustrated by the fact that Swedish courts usually favor the rights of resident mothers, according to the U.S. State Department. Even if parental access is ordered, Swedish judges don't have the authority to enforce the rulings.
"I did raise hell in Sweden," Barghi said. "But the American government, American parents have no power in Sweden."
Kristine said it's taken her a long time to sort out the conflicting stories that she's heard over the years.
"Some things just didn't make sense that I heard from my mother, or that I heard from him," she said. "I thought, 'I want to go over there and check it out -- to see for myself, and make up my own opinion, make up my own story.' "
She said that during the years her dad claims to have been fighting for her, she didn't see any of it. All she knew was that her dad, like many parents of divorce, wasn't around for many of her childhood milestones -- birthdays, learning to drive, going to the prom.
"I never could say, 'I'm going to the cinema with my dad. I'm going to my grandma's on my father's side,' " she said. "It's sad. That I missed. I wanted to have it."
Since her arrival in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, Kristine and Barghi have been trying to make up for lost time. She finally met her grandmother, Barghi's mother, during a visit to the Bay Area over Christmas weekend.
And the family spent hours on a pastime that divides even the closest of fathers and daughters: shopping.
"She's catching up for the last 17 years of shopping," Barghi said.
"Some things were too tight, some things were too short, some things were -- 'Oh, that's OK, that one's ... No-no-no-no!' " Kristine said, laughing.
Kristine, who has a 14-year-old brother in Sweden, is also getting to know her four American siblings.
The eldest, 10-year-old Reza, said that while he'd never talked to or even seen Kristine before last week, he always knew her as part of the family.
"I felt bad for my dad, because he never got to see his long-lost daughter," Reza said. "He never got to see her first day of school, never saw her in middle school, never got to see her first friends. So it was really sad."
Barghi said that Reza, his brothers Kayumars, 8, and Dariush, 2, and their sister Noor, 6, "went bananas" when they finally met Kristine at the airport.
But there have also been quiet moments, awkward struggles and questions still to be answered.
"We want to put a closing to this chapter of our life," Barghi said. "It's been dragging on for a very long time. It's hurt us enough."
As part of that closure, father and daughter have started to pore over documents Barghi has been compiling for years, waiting to show Kristine. She said she's been surprised at some of the things she's seen.
"It's a puzzle: He showed me the phone list when he called me five years ago, and letters he's tried to send," Kristine said. "I was like, 'I haven't gotten any of it.' And this is proof that he has done it."
Barghi said that despite all the years of legal battles, international headaches and late-night phone calls, he's glad to get the chance to finally connect with his adult daughter.
"There are lots and lots of people having the same problem I had," Barghi said. "Some are mothers, some are fathers. But the message I want to send is: Never give up on your children."
And Kristine said that, in the end, she appreciated the persistence.
"Now when I'm here, I feel whole," she told her father. "It feels like a piece of me is getting filled up. It's really good, and I cannot have a better role model than you."
Labels: Custody, Dads, Divorce, Kids