This Sunday's Parade magazine had an article, "Wish you were here," by Brad Dunn on "flat Daddies," life-sized cardboard images of loved ones. Military familes can have a "flat Daddy" or "flat Mommy" to remind children of deployed parents. Lest you think this odd, let me provide two examples of what happened when there were no such reminders.
This is from the remarks Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz made at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 1, 2007:
I sometimes believe that my first memory was when I was barely 3 and my father left for the Korean War. I can picture my mother, my brother at 4 ½ and my sister at 2 all slightly sad – not really sure why.
But, I know that my father’s return, more than 2 years later after serving in an Army MASH unit in Korea is in fact my own, real remembrance.
I was 5 years old. I was in Kindergarten and my father came to my school to get me. I remember seeing him. In his uniform. So unlikely to see a man in uniform at school.
But what I remember most was that I did not recognize him. I did not know him. I was a little awed and a little scared. I remember needing to be reassured by my older brother who, at 6 ½, was very much my “older brother” – that it was okay, that this man was our Dad.
My second example is more personal. I've written of being from a military family. My father was in the Army for 20 years. He returned from an overseas tour of duty when I was about 3 or 4. My mother tells me I was concerned about "that man" getting in the refrigerator and just being around the house. I didn't remember him. The year I was in first grade he was a platoon sergeant in Viet Nam. My parents bought matching tape recorders (the old reel to reel kind) and we would send tapes back and forth. She would set the tape recorder out on special occasions, like Christmas morning, and record the family conversations so he could keep up with what we were doing and hear our voices. He would send tapes back just letting us know what he was doing and so we could hear the sound of his voice. One of his favorite stories was my mother writing him to say they must be having bad weather because she could hear thunder on his last tape. (Hint: it wasn't thunder.) My parents divorced about a year after he got back. All told, he was away for four of the eight years of my childhood that my parents were married. That had to take a toll.
"Flat Daddies" may sound strange to those not familiar with family life when one parent is away for an extended period of time. I think it's a grand idea. If you are looking for a holiday charity, you can donate a flat Daddy or Mommy to a family. Something to think about.