'My Wife Abducted My Daughter. She Just Disappeared'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A social worker from Norway who won't give up on finding his daughter, and an Israeli carpenter who beat depression

Cedric Grillon.
Tomer Appelbaum

Cedric Grillon, 43, lives in Oslo and flying there

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

I came to Israel in order to travel around with a friend.

What do you do in Norway?

I am a social worker who works with youths. The social services in Norway have a great deal of power – you can remove children from their parents’ home. If the authorities suspect that violence was used or that there was sexual abuse, the child is transferred to a home that belongs to the authorities. Each residence has two adults and three children. We, the adults, live with them for a period of between six months and two years, and try to help them improve the dynamics of their relationship with their parents. Then, if the children want, and the situation improves, they can return home; if not, they go into foster care.

Is it hard work?

I’m with the children three days, then off for a week, and then four more full days. When I’m in the home I’m with them 24/7, and everything is managed like a regular home, but the structure is different, because they need different things. These children have been betrayed by the people closest to them. Some become attached to us and it’s difficult for them to take the next step and go out into the world. I stay in touch with some of them even after they leave.

Is it hard for you, too, when they leave?

That’s a long story.

I’m in favor of long stories.

I am French by origin. I met a woman in northern Norway and we were married. She worked for the United Nations, so we lived two years in New York, two years in Mauritius and two in China. I followed her. When our daughter was born, I was home a lot with her, but that was fine. I was happy to help with [my partner’s] career. When our daughter was 6, I went back to Norway with her so she could go to school and have some stability, and my wife stayed on in Beijing to work. Then, when my wife returned to Norway, her behavior was problematic. I turned to the welfare services. They arrived and wanted to separate us, and I agreed, at my initiative, to go to a hotel for one night. The next day, when I came to pick up my daughter from school, I discovered that she had disappeared.

Oh, no.

Yes. My ex-wife had taken her to Beijing. She simply abducted her. I brought in the police, of course, but then my wife came out with a declaration that I was not the biological father. We did a paternity test and that turned out to be true. But for me it changed nothing – she is my daughter.

Can’t anything be done?

Norway is a wonderful country, but it turns out that if you’re not the biological father you have no rights. For a whole year I coped with that trauma. It’s traumatic to lose a child. And it was a double blow, because of the paternity. I felt terrible, but in the end I decided to fight. I wrote to the authorities, the police, the Welfare Ministry. I contacted lawyers. But it seems that there’s simply a lacuna in the legal system. For six years I raised the girl, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t accumulate money, I lived for her. I didn’t want to be a millionaire, she was my center. For the past three years I’ve been working. I want to take the case to the court of the European Union, but it’s complicated because my ex-wife has diplomatic status. Since she took the child to Beijing she has disappeared. The only thing I’ve found over the past three years is a Facebook post from my ex-wife’s mother, with a photograph of the two of them having coffee after shopping, I don’t know where.

For two years I’ve been devoting a lot of time and effort, but I feel that I don’t have enough economic “muscle.” It looks like there really are two classes in the world today, even in democracies like Norway: those who have money and status – and all the rest. Lots of people tell me I should get on with my life, and I am trying to live and I still want a relationship, but I can’t stop fighting. I will never be complete without her.

I miss my daughter. She just disappeared totally, and I’m looking for ways to find her. People tell me I should write a book so that maybe someday my daughter will read it. In any case, I would like to tell her, I would like her to know, that I would never abandon her, that it wasn’t my choice, and that I miss her and send her my love even now.

Omri Golan.
Tomer Appelbaum

Omri Golan, 29, lives in Tel Aviv; arriving from Vienna

Hello, what were you doing in Europe?

I went to visit my parents. They live in Berlin.

Role reversal – it’s usually the parents who go to visit their kid in Berlin.

My parents moved to Germany 13 years ago, before it was fashionable and before I went into the army. After my service I joined them for six years, but I came back to Israel two years ago.

Why?

Because I got depressed. For five months, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And you thought Israel would pull you out of it?

I didn’t think. I was like a wounded animal crawling to its cave. It was a reflexive action. I just didn’t know what to do – so I did something. I was studying food engineering in Berlin at the time, and I was accepted to a student exchange program with the [Haifa] Technion. And in Israel, things improved after a single semester. Not that the situation was brilliant, but I told myself that there was no reason to see whether it works in Berlin, too.

Do you know what triggered the depression?

I was never able to find reasons for the depression that, when I say them, don’t sound like – what’s the word I’m looking for?... It just happened. I can’t say it’s because I wasn’t in Israel, maybe it would have happened here, too. The depression had no explanation.

And is emerging from it grounded in reason?

What helped me most was to understand that I couldn’t think my way out, that I couldn’t solve the problem cognitively.

You concluded that all the “digging” into everything doesn’t help? Lots of research today would back you up.

There was no way to reach any other conclusion. I just simply understood that I’m traveling on this train. But I traveled and I traveled, and time went by and then it passed. I can’t give myself any credit for the depression ending.

But you went to school in Berlin and at the Technion – in other words, you functioned.

In Berlin there’s no minimum number of classes [you need to take]; you can be a student for 20 years without doing a single course. Once a year they’ll send you a letter – “What have you decided?” – and you’ll say, “Leave me alone.” After a little over two years, I dropped out of school in Israel, too. I’m pleased that I left. Only once in a while there’s the thing of coping with society without a degree, and that’s a tough moment, but minor.

You know that having no framework accelerates depression.

For me it’s the opposite. When I had to cope with something with no option to choose, it was like putting the depression on steroids. It paralyzed me even more.

How are you today?

These days I’m a sweaty guy with an electric screwdriver. I started to build dance floors for ballet, and I also build furniture and theater sets. That suits me a lot more for sure. The absolute majority of life is uncertainty, and maybe it’s the age or the drugs or where I live, but uncertainty paralyzes me. My way of coping with the uncertainty in this life is to occupy myself with as many things as possible that have certainty, which is why I’m fond of the physical world. Material things in the physical world have a set of rules, and if you’re knowledgeable about them, you can maneuver correctly.

Do you see a psychologist?

No. I never have: 33 percent because I think that psychology is a modern snake oil, 33 percent because I don’t have the money to find out whether I’m wrong, and 33 percent because I don’t trust other people to be able to help me – if I don’t understand what’s going on in my head, how is somebody else going to understand?

Sometimes people understand. Friends.

I have two friends who love me enough to tolerate me. I tell them my bullshit all the time, but I feel that the love between us is strong enough so I don’t have to guess what will happen. That relaxes me a lot. I have a least a fantasy of certainty. By the way, I’ve just seen the movie “Avengers: Endgame.”

Tomer, the photographer: No spoilers.

Thor’s mother says to him: “We are not supposed to measure ourselves according to the people we are supposed to be; we are supposed to see what kind of people we are now and what we do from now on.” That’s one fucking great quote. Look at who you are now and how you work with that. That’s my fortune-cookie wisdom.