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
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.
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.