Marty Henson wants to be a good father. A rough-and-tumble past and a series of poor decisions made it difficult for him to be a nurturing parent, but he now recognizes his shortcomings. It took several prison stays and a strained relationship with his two daughters for him to reevaluate his life and change.
Shortly after his honorable discharge from military, Henson spent over 15 years caught in a downward spiral of drug dealing, heroin addiction and even brief periods of imprisonment. An arrest in 2007 led him to mandatory drug rehabilitation at the Baltimore VA Medical System's ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) program, a service offered through the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program for substance abuse. Henson found the treatment helpful and fulfilling, so he joined The Father's Group, a weekly elective psycho-educational program that helps men battle their addictions and strengthen their families.
"It's taught me to be honest, it's taught me to be slow to speak and quick to listen," said Henson as he spoke on The Father's Group. "I've always valued my relationship with my children, but it's taught me to honor their feelings [and] their perspectives as well."
Henson said he saw raw honesty at its best and worse. He sat among men who wept while sharing intimate details of their lives and others who struggled to accept responsibility for their actions. One of the men he found support from was Tony Cox, a fellow veteran and single father who has raised his son alone since his infancy.
Despite his drug usage, Cox always maintained a job. But he also lived in cycle: his employers would discover his addiction, he would enter and complete a program, only to return to using again. He wouldn't come to grips with his addiction or the neglect of his son until an accident left him paralyzed. Realizing his life was crumbling, he entered the ACT program for help, and became one of the group's most influential members.
"If I can bless you then I'm going to do it. Regardless of whether you can bless me back or not, that's not my intentions of doing it," said Cox, who currently attends Baltimore City Community College and visits the group during semester breaks. "I'm doing it because that's basically what humans [are] supposed to do. They suppose to help each other."
Recently, The Father's Group held their first program under the theme "Bettering Fathers for the Future." Psychologist Dr. Mark Arenas, The Father's Group facilitator, was so impressed with Henson and Cox he encouraged them to attend the conference – which allowed the veterans to voice their shortcomings and achievements as fathers, as co-presenters.
"[Henson] and Tony both have that hunger to find their manhood in being a responsible, reliable, wise family man figure. They both are great guys," said Arenas.
Today, both men say they've found peace with their kids. While Henson maintains a good relationship with his older daughter, he continues to make amends with his youngest. Cox said his teenage son is preparing for his senior year of high school, and is proud that he made the decision to start anew.