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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Litigious Dad Deprives Son Of Mom, Love

Ah, yes. Valentine's Day. The perfect day to remember the Bard's bittersweet adage: The course of true love never did run smooth.

That the course of true love had not run smooth for Wonder Dad was obvious. I met Wonder Dad, an American divorc?, on Monday, as I was flying to Seattle on Aeroflot.

Wonder Dad was returning to the States with his 2 1/2-year-old son, Sasha. For two hours after the plane took off, Sasha cried plaintively, "Mama, Mama." While Sasha pined for his mother, Wonder Dad, seated in 19C, blithely recounted his recent marital history to a passenger in 19D. (I sat in 18D, and since Wonder Dad's voice sounded just less loud than a bullhorn, I couldn't help but hear his story.)

In a nutshell: Wonder Dad had married a Russian woman some years ago. The product of that union, Sasha, was born in the United States and had two passports -- one American, one Russian.

But the marriage turned sour at some point, and Wonder Dad, apparently a litigious type ("I spent $14,000 last year in legal bills," he crowed), got full custody of his son. With the court's blessing, Wonder Dad hatched the following plan: Sasha would spend six months with Dad in the States, six months with Mom in Russia. At age 16, Sasha could decide for himself where and with whom he wanted to live.

It seemed clear that Sasha would have preferred to stay with Mom. Sasha was obviously frightened and confused: Who was this man sitting next to him? He had last seen Wonder Dad in July. Sasha was just beginning to talk, but Wonder Dad did not speak Russian, and Sasha obviously did not understand much English.

But even if Wonder Dad couldn't speak his son's language, I thought, surely he could comfort Sasha by holding him, soothing him. But Wonder Dad is not a coddler. "His mother and grandmother have spoiled him over the past six months," he snorted to his neighbor as Sasha cried.

Sasha's sufferings got the attention of most passengers within earshot. At one point, a buxom Russian matron in a blood-red sweater couldn't take it any more: "Bezobraziye!" ("How disgraceful!") she said loudly as she got up from her seat.

The babushka went to the 19th row, simply picked up Sasha, cooed at him in Russian and took him to her seat. Within five minutes, he was asleep in her arms. The other passengers clapped.

Sasha slept for about three hours. When he awoke, the babushka returned him to Wonder Dad, who decided at that point that he would get some shut-eye. Wonder Dad lay down across the three seats at his disposal, while Sasha lay on the floor, sobbing, "Mama, Mama."

I couldn't handle this. I coaxed Sasha toward me with the help of one of his stuffed animals and my best Russian babushka talk. Sasha crept toward me and asked conspiratorially, "Gde mama?" ("Where's Mama?") It broke my heart that I couldn't tell him where his mother was.

I shared the Russian matron's shocked indignity at what this man seemed to be doing. When Wonder Dad awoke, I said frankly, "It seems that what you're doing is cruel."

"I have a court order," he answered.

No, the course of true love never did run smooth. It's a lesson Sasha is learning early in life.

Helen Womack is on vacation.