Stephen Watkins had spent two and a half years dreaming of the reunion he'd have with his sons, who, along with Mr. Watkins's estranged wife, went missing from their Toronto home in 2009.
But when Mr. Watkins was finally reunited with his boys in late November, the encounter was bittersweet: he said they were distant, angry and confused.
Alexander and Christopher Watkins, it is alleged, were driven by their maternal grandfather from Toronto to Detroit, flew with their mother to Germany and travelled from there to Poland in March 2009.
In 2010, the RCMP added the boys' mother, Edyta Watkins (who was allegedly going by her maiden name, Ustaszewski, in Poland), to its most-wanted list and issued a Canada-wide warrant for her arrest.
"It's one thing when your children go missing in a city or in a province, let alone a country. Trying to find your kids internationally is incredibly difficult," Mr. Watkins said in an interview Sunday from Poland.
This summer, he learned his sons were found living with their mother in Warsaw. Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Poland so the Polish government has not sent Ms. Watkins back to Canada.
Despite having won full custody of his children in an Ontario court almost three years ago, Mr. Watkins is now in Poland waging a custody battle against his wife all over again.
In March 2009, during one of her twice-a-month court-ordered weekend visitations, Ms. Watkins allegedly fled the country with her sons. Mr. Watkins, who said he had feared for years his wife might abduct their children, had added his children to a few missing children database watch lists as a precaution.
The boys' school called one Monday morning to let him know they were absent.
"As soon as I got that call I knew the abduction was happening," he said.
Without full recognition of the Canadian charges against his wife, Mr. Watkins said, the custody battle has become a matter of he said/she said.
He said his wife has "brainwashed" his children into fearing him. The handful of visits Polish courts have granted him with his sons have been unpleasant.
Staff from Foreign Affairs and the Canadian embassy in Poland have aided him in his mission to get his children back, he said. Representatives from the embassy have sat in on every court date.
In his view, York Regional Police (Mr. Watkins lives in Newmarket), the RCMP and Foreign Affairs have done all they can, but it isn't enough. He has sent multiple letters to the Prime Minister in hopes that he will make an official request to the Polish government to send the children back to Canada.
Staff from the Prime Minister's Office could not be reached for comment.
A judge is expected to make a decision on Dec. 15, but Mr. Watkins isn't optimistic about the outcome either way.
"Because they're still in the care and custody of my ex-wife, if the courts order my sons back to Canada, they can disappear. So it seems as though I'm doing a losing battle here either way," he said.
After his children went missing, Mr. Watkins he scaled back his work in marketing to build a social media campaign to track down his children. In the past few weeks in Poland, he said he's spent about $20,000 in transportation, legal fees, translation of court documents and hiring a security guard to accompany him on court-ordered visits with his children. It reveals the most frustrating thing about child abduction cases, he said.
"The cost to find missing kids falls on the left-behind parent."