Dad Stays in the Pic­ture, Even When He’s Off to War

Photo Dolls and Life-Size Posters Are Help­ing Chil­dren Cope While Par­ents Are in Iraq

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Style Invitational - By John Mil­burn

FORT RI­LEY, Kan. — For 2- year- old Anna Pribyla, it can be dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand what it means for her dad to be in Iraq. Ev­ery sol­dier looks like him.

But like thou­sands of other mil­i­tary chil­dren, Anna has some­thing to cling to. She has her Daddy Doll, a small pil­low shaped like a per­son, with a dig­i­tal pic­ture of her dad, Capt. Eric Pribyla, printed on the front.

“ She gets to sleep with him at night and still kiss him good night,” said her mom, Chrissy Pribyla. “ He goes ev­ery­where with her be­cause it keeps him fresh in her mind.”

As the four- year Iraq war drags on, more fam­i­lies are keep­ing mem­o­ries alive with the dolls or with life- size posters called Flat Dad­dies.

Michelle Kelley, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Old Do­min­ion Univer­sity in Nor­folk, said dolls and posters aren’t a panacea for miss­ing a par­ent, but they could be a good lit­mus test for how well chil­dren are cop­ing.

“ If the care­giver sees that they are clutch­ing and be­ing weepy, it might be a good in­di­ca­tion that they have emo­tions they can’t ex­plain, or aren’t feel­ing well about de­ploy­ment,” Kelley said.

And the worst out­come is that they end up at the bot­tom of a toy box.

“ Each kid’s dif­fer­ent. Some kids might be into dolls and might be in­ter­ested in it,” Kelley said. “ The big pic­ture is to con­tinue do­ing ev­ery­thing you were go­ing to do. Keep the rou­tine go­ing.”

Daddy Dolls started when Tricia Dyal asked a rel­a­tive to make a doll for her chil­dren. Her hus­band, Marine Maj. Justin Dyal, was head­ing to Iraq for the sec­ond time in less than two years, leav­ing a 4year- old and a new­born at home.

“ My hus­band just de­ployed; the kids got sick and were hos­pi­tal­ized. I con­tacted my great- aunt and said, ‘ A pic­ture’s just not do­ing it. They need more,’ ” said Dyal, who lives near Camp Le­je­une, N. C.

What she got was a doll with the pic­ture of their fa­ther, some­thing her chil­dren could clutch when they didn’t feel well, some­thing that would re­mind them of their dad.

“ Our doll has been to doc­tor’s vis­its. The first day of school it was in the back­pack,” she said.

Dyal pro­vides the lit­tle pil­lows — sev­eral thou­sand so far — at a lit­tle more than the cost of sup­plies, $ 25 for a 17- inch doll or $ 19 for a 12- inch doll for smaller chil­dren.

Flat Dad­dies were cre­ated by Sgt. 1st Class Bar­bara Claudel of the Maine Na­tional Guard to help fam­i­lies stay con­nected dur­ing de­ploy­ments to Iraq. Seven months ago, SFC Graph­ics, an Ohio firm, got in­volved, tak­ing on the job of print­ing the posters and get­ting them to fam­i­lies at lit­tle or no cost.

“ When we heard the story, we said it was a nice fit for what we do ev­ery day,” said Eric Crock­ett, na­tional pro­gram di­rec­tor for SFC Flat Daddy.

Or­ders have topped the 1,500 mark, with com­ments from fam­i­lies com­ing in from all over the coun­try. SFC is look­ing for cor­po­rate spon­sors to un­der­write the $ 49.50 cost of mak­ing and ship­ping each poster.

Ash­ley Zamora has a Flat Daddy of her hus­band, Cpl. Robert Zamora. The photo was taken the morn­ing he left for Iraq, with Capt. Pribyla’s bat­tal­ion.

She cut the pho­to­graph to fit on a poster board so her old­est daugh­ter, 2- year- old Ros­alina, could carry it around the house, or so Dad could ride on the stroller with sis­ter Anal­isa, 18 months.

Ros­alina has taken to mak­ing din­ner for Daddy in her play kitchen, prop­ping him up for meals.

“ She tried to feed him a fry the other day,” said Ash­ley Zamora, 19.

There will be many pre­tend meals over the next year, with her dad part of the in­fantry buildup in Bagh­dad.

Cpl. Zamora will get a brief leave in May, a month af­ter their third child, also a girl, is born.

“ A year’s a long time for a lit­tle kid. They don’t un­der­stand time,” said Ash­ley Zamora.

Duck­ing be­hind Mom, a shy Ros­alina said, “ He’s at work.”

Jill Crider, wife of a Fort Ri­ley cavalry bat­tal­ion com­man­der, ac­knowl­edged some fam­i­lies thought the idea of get­ting a Flat Daddy was “ creepy.”

“ What’s creepy is pre­tend­ing a ma­jor part of our life’s not here, pre­tend­ing that a ma­jor part of our fam­ily is not here,” Crider said.

PHO­TOS BY OR­LIN WAG­NER — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Anna Pribyla with her Daddy Doll, im­printed with an im­age of her fa­ther, who’s in Iraq. Ash­ley Zamora, right, with her daugh­ters Ros­alina, Anal­isa and their Flat Daddy.

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