Focus on the Family

The McAdams want their children back, but can former heroin addicts succeed as parents?

At thirteen, David got caught shoplifting. At sixteen, he earned his first felony -- for pulling quarters out of a soda machine. "There was no violence, nothing that genuinely hurt anybody," he says. "It was all just teenage angst, just pushing limits. I've always been a limit-pusher."

David started using heroin for the same reason. He equates drugs with extreme sports: "What's the whole point of extreme sports? Pushing limits. Coming as close to dying as you possibly can without actually dying. Why do you climb a mountain? You slip, you fall, you're dead. You're doing dope a little too much, you're dead. And you're getting high. The metaphor is exact." More felonies for drugs, burglary and theft followed David into his adult years.

By 1999, at age 24, he thought he'd put his criminal past behind him. He was eight months clean, having enrolled himself in a methadone treatment program, when Tiffany walked into his life.

David and Tiffany McAdam spend some quality time 
with their sons, Martin (foreground) and David Jr.
Mark Manger
David and Tiffany McAdam spend some quality time with their sons, Martin (foreground) and David Jr.
Department of Human Services administrator Jude 
Liguori works with families in crisis.
Mark Manger
Department of Human Services administrator Jude Liguori works with families in crisis.

It was a spring night just after last call, and he was waiting outside the Snake Pit in Capitol Hill when a girl hopped into his truck and yelled, "Let's go!"

"Where are we going?" he asked. Realizing she was in the wrong car, Tiffany improvised and invited the stranger with her to an after-party. They stayed out all night and shared their first kiss as they watched the sun rise over Berthoud Pass.

"We were pretty much inseparable after that," David says.

Within six months, they were living together -- and partying hard. "I was off the charts. I was a rock star," David says of his heroin and cocaine usage. After a while, however, it got to be too much, and they moved out to Wheat Ridge to chill out. They were both in methadone treatment programs in 2000 when Tiffany got pregnant; they were married soon after.

Tiffany felt healthy and ready to be a mom. She had a merchandizing job with a major retailer, and she worked up until three days before Martin was born in 2001. When she went back to work two and a half months later, she put Martin in a daycare program at Family Star Montessori and Early Head Start. At night she stayed home and played with her son. She read him books at bedtime. They were inseparable.

David, on the other hand, was freaked out by fatherhood. He started partying and getting into trouble again, living in and out of jail and halfway houses. Even when he wasn't incarcerated, he stayed away because he didn't want to screw up his son. Tiffany called herself a single mom.

But by the time Martin was two, David had come around. "He started developing a personality, and it blew me away," he says. He began visiting his son at Family Star every day, and he was asked to join the school's Fatherhood Leadership Council. Craig Hart, the fatherhood project's leader, was willing to take a chance on David despite his felonies and halfway-house residence. "David was 100 percent committed to the program and was 100 percent committed to his baby. Still is," Hart says.

The McAdams' downward spiral began with a phone call in November 2003. Tiffany was standing outside the mall with Martin in the twenty-degree night, waiting for a ride that never showed. She knew David wasn't supposed to drive because he was living in a halfway house, but she didn't know who else to call. Not wanting to leave them out there, David went to pick them up. The cops pulled him over on Colfax Avenue for having expired plates. Instead of fessing up, he called his brother to ask if he could use his name. He figured John would get a ticket for driving without insurance and get off when he showed proof of insurance to the judge. His brother agreed but later told the cops the truth. David had a new felony -- criminal impersonation -- and was looking at another eighteen months in prison.

When he went away, Tiffany began to unravel. She'd left her merchandizing job to sell carpet, thinking she'd make more money. At first the move was profitable, but soon her commissions were non-existent. She quit the week of Thanksgiving and found a job at a hardware store, taking on the late hours for a reliable paycheck.

In February, a neighbor introduced Tiffany to meth, and she started using it every once in a while -- but never around Martin, she says. Come summer, she agreed to let a friend move in so she could split the rent. Unbeknownst to her, he was a heroin addict, and Tiffany was soon using heroin and meth and drinking heavily -- though still never around her son or in their home, she says. At the same time, a bacterial infection spread all over her body, making her even more irritable and anxious than the drugs already had. Then she abruptly stopped taking the prescription methadone she'd been on for four years. By August, it was clear to Tiffany that she needed help, and clear to David, again living in a halfway house, that she was losing her mind.

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