Bringing Pietro Home: One Dad's Epic Custody Fight

Chavarria fessed up with additional details after Henry e-mailed her the article. She told Henry she went into labor while staying at a ritzy Florence hotel and gave birth to the baby on the bathroom floor. The next day, she said, she took the baby around the corner to a church and left him there.

"You know, I really don't know what happened there," said Henry. "The story still hasn't come out."

The crisis was far from over. Henry's child was now in the care of Italian social services. The child was about to be put up for adoption.

"I couldn't give up," said Henry. "I couldn't give up on finding my child."

Henry had never been to Italy.

"The best thing I could do was contact an attorney in Italy who spoke English," Henry said.

After emailing every bilingual lawyer he could find, Henry hooked up with attorney Vincent Lualdi, whose expertise was international family law.

'It Was Crazy'

Henry had to appear before a Minors' Court in Italy and submit DNA samples to prove he was the child's father. The process dragged from days into weeks -- then a month. Henry took in some of the sights, made friends with the locals and killed time working around Lualdi's house, but he still was not allowed to see his son.

"The process has been slow, there have been bumps in the road, and it's been very expensive," Henry said at the time. "The first time for me to go into the cathedral was to actually go and pray."

Henry's family sent his aunt, Tamara Dattola, for support.

"I have four kids so I definitely have parenting experience," said Dattola upon her arrival in Italy. "Brandon, he's a new father and has no clue -- so I'm here to help him."

After more than a month, Henry was about to have his first visitation with his abandoned son. The baby was in an orphanage in a seaside town called Viareggio.

"It was crazy," said Henry. "My heart just jumped out of my chest. I felt like he knew who I was. This whole struggle and process was very hard. But, at that moment, I knew it was all worth it. I looked at him and I was like, 'That's my life.'"

Over the next week Henry got acquainted with the routines of parenting a four month-old boy: changing diapers, feeding, strolling, and changing more diapers. The nuns had named him Pietro, or Peter.

In the Bible, St. Peter is known as The Rock.

"I must say, he's a very strong boy," said Henry. "I mean, he's gone through more in four months than a lot of people will go through in their entire lives."

"They were so impressed with Brandon," Dattola said of the nuns, "his ability to take care of [Pietro], feed him."

After Henry's family provided the U.S. consulate with all the necessary documents to establish the child's citizenship, father and son seemed poised to go home.

But there was more red tape to cut through. Though Lualdi was told the paperwork was complete, a court order had failed to go through in time for Henry to take exclusive custody of his baby boy.

"I'm very frustrated right now. This has happened over, over, and over again," said Henry. "I think it's very unfair."

The next day brought more delays until Henry and Dattola finally take matters into their own hands, going to the court to demand the order.

"I said the heck with this, we are coming," said Dattola. "We were going to make something happen." In the end, the court order came through and baby Pietro was delivered into Henry's arms.

"It feels excellent. I'm ready to get his passport and head home," said Henry.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...