Life hasn't been particularly kind to Dan Barlow.

The soft-spoken retiree, now 76, saw three children taken during the infamous Short Creek raid of 1953. He got them back, fathered many more and rose to prominence in life becoming mayor of Colorado City, Ariz. and his involvement through the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

That changed in 2004.

Sect leader Warren Jeffs excommunicated Barlow, his son and 18 others, forcing them out of their homes and away from their families. Last month, his four youngest children were taken by Texas authorities in a raid many call a modern Short Creek.

In 1953, Arizona authorities took away all the sect community's women and children and kept them in custody for two years. Public outcry over the handling of the raid and its aftermath led to a hands-off approach toward the sect for half a century.

"I know what it feels like," said Barlow, easily the oldest father — and perhaps the only grandfather — involved in the landmark child-custody case, the largest in U.S. history. "I know the emotions. I know the feelings."

Barlow doesn't know whether his wife, a sect member, will get her children back. If not, he said, he would gladly take them. He doesn't know whether that would be possible either.

A 3rd Court of Appeals ruling last week brought hope to him and hundreds of other parents swept into the massive case. But the reality remains that they, their children and the thousands of attorneys, case workers and appointed guardians are unsure what — if anything — the ruling means.

The legal arguments matter little for Barlow.

He finally visited his children, who range in age from 4 to 13, last week after being unable to contact them since shortly after his excommunication — the reasons for which he says he still doesn't know.

The oldest recognized him. The younger three only knew him from pictures.

"They kind of grew up," he said, waiting for his attorney on a bench in the Tom Green County Courthouse, sounding neither sad nor angry despite having every right to be. "The little ones didn't even know me.

"When you get older, things are all supposed to smooth out," he continued, "but sometimes when you get older, your greatest tests are still ahead."