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A new Dad, nine years later

November 1, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Memories of the explosiveness of Bradley Hieb's relationship with loved ones and with drugs reinforce how fortunate he now is to be in a position to be a real Dad. Hieb, 29, has benefited from an emerging focus in residential treatment on strengthening the parental bond.

Bradley hieb and his two children
Bradley Hieb and his two children.

Most of the parent-focused programs that have existed for a while in the addiction treatment community serve mothers, but Hieb spent the better part of two years in an innovative Fathers and Children program operated by Odyssey House in Salt Lake City, Utah. And now since July, Hieb has worked full-time as an Odyssey House case manager.

One of his first observations after entering the Fathers and Children program as a patient: “Look at all these Dads acting like Moms,” he recalls.

The difference between this program and the traditional adult treatment that Hieb had encountered was immediately noticeable. “The atmosphere was different; it was all about the kids,” he says. “From the beginning, I looked up to and respected the other fathers. They would say, ‘Don't do this, because the kid could get hurt.’”

Past struggles

With precise detail, almost in documentary-like fashion, Hieb relates the specifics of substance use and associated problems that for him started with a party lifestyle in high school. He bristled at his parents' rules and moved out of the family home before graduation, soon moving in with a girlfriend whom his family did not want him to see. When his girlfriend became pregnant with their daughter, Hieb adopted the mindset of “needing to get the partying out before the birth,” he says.

A sheet metal worker, Hieb cleaned up for a while after his daughter was born, changing shifts at work to accommodate child care and buying a house. But his relationship was troubled, and he says he turned to substances to feel OK after learning that the mother of his child had cheated on him. (The couple was married for three years; Hieb's daughter is now nine and he also has a six-year-old son.)

After his divorce he began allowing many friends, and cocaine, into his house. “Everything started crumbling real quick,” Hieb says. There were missed opportunities to turn it around. At one point, after a co-worker's tip, he was asked to take a drug test that resulted in a suspension, but he says he faked his way through counseling and never stopped using.

Meanwhile, the fights with the mother of his children continued. By now she also had become a heavy user and the two had many breakups, reconciliations, and court appearances-a protective order had been lodged against him. Hieb cycled into methamphetamine and pill use, and eventually his children would end up in foster care. He recalls a transforming moment after all the madness, when he had no one else to turn to and called his parents to ask if he could use their phone. At their house, he saw his children again, as his parents had remained involved in their lives.

“To my surprise, my kids woke me up,” Hieb recalls. “That was a big, huge wakeup call.”

Soon he would find out about Odyssey House and its program for fathers, which the treatment organization launched in 2005. His treatment stay at one point was interrupted by 17 days in jail, and reconciliation with his daughter and son didn't happen overnight. By this time, the children's mother was not in the picture.

“So much trust had been lost,” Hieb says. “We started with supervised visits, then bumped it up to longer visits, and then up to sleepovers.”

The surroundings in Odyssey's program were clean and home-like, but most importantly the fathers thrived on the mutual support they received, Hieb recalls. In the summer of 2008, Hieb gained full custody of his children. Everyone has their own bedroom in the home he and his children now share.

“I've never felt as much of a Dad as I do now,” he says. “I can look in my kids' eyes, and they trust me.”

Giving back

Hieb describes Odyssey's treatment experience-one he now sees from the other side as a clinician-as allowing the individual to believe that any problem can be fixed.

“You want to pull up everyone else around you,” he says. “In the past, I would never finish what I started. Everything about this program addresses any need and the way to appropriately handle it.”

Hieb doesn't have any grandiose multi-year plans about his role in the treatment field, preferring just to see where it all eventually takes him. He says he is learning a great deal about the many clinical tools needed to be an effective case manager, and how far-ranging the job really is.

“All of this is a huge reminder for me, about how important it is for me to continue to be a role model,” Hieb says.

Addiction Professional 2009 November-December;7(6):40