Prior to writing Band of Sisters, I watched a close friend go through her husband's deployment. We lived just around the corner from one another, and my youngest was the perfect age to play with her children.
I was more than happy to fill in as a last-minute babysitter or lend my husband to fix a clogged garbage disposal or whatever. A couple of times, she used me as a listening ear, even though, much as I tried, I knew that deep down, I didn't (and couldn't) really have a clue what she was going through without facing a deployment personally.
I like to think I was a little bit of a support to her, but the reality is, I felt pretty helpless and didn't know if there was anything I could really do to help her beyond being an on-call babysitter and having our family pray for hers.
Her deployment experience led me to researching the topic more fully and talking to a number of military wives, and, ultimately, I felt compelled to write a novel about the topic.
In the process, I found that many people (both those who personally know a military family and those who don't) wish for something specific they could do to help. They just don't know what.
Then I landed on a blog that changed things. Eureka! Here was something concrete, something anyone could do that was simple in action but big on impact.
The Free Flat Daddy® Project
Flat Daddies (or Flat Mommies) are life-size photographs of the deployed parent. In a small but powerful way, a Flat Daddy can help ease the pain of the parent's absence.
Children take their Flat Daddy to soccer games, kindergarten graduation, even trick-or-treating.
Boys can push "Dad" in a wagon and otherwise "play" with him. Young children can kiss him good night.
The blog I first discovered the concept on is A Year with Flat Daddy, where an LDS woman nicknamed Mo recorded their family's journey with "FJ" (Flat Jared) while "RJ" (Real Jared) was in Iraq.
Their experience in Mo's own words:
Flat Daddies can really provide a strange sense of comfort in some situations and sometimes a little bit of comfort is enough to get through another day. I know that it was especially helpful for our daughter, who was very young when Jared left.
She didn't shy away from him in the least when he came home and scooped her up. And "Daddy" was even her first word! Our oldest son has some special needs and doesn't adjust well to change, so the chance to have his "Dad" with him as usual helped ease his stress a bit.
And I'll admit that on at least one occasion I put my arms around Flat Jared's neck and cried my eyes out. It was more comforting than crying in a pillow, to be honest.
Carrying a Flat Daddy with you really does bring out the best in people. I experienced such gratitude and kindness from complete strangers, people who wanted to connect with us and really be a part of our family's little adventure.
I am so grateful for Flat Daddies. I had heard of the concept before, but the cost is prohibitively high if you try to make one yourself at a local copy shop. Having a place that makes it easy and affordable—or free for a family going through a deployment—is a great blessing.
The Flat Daddy® concept is the brainchild of Elaine Dumler, who originally came up with it as one of many ideas for military families in her book, I'm Already Home.
The idea took off, and through her efforts, she became known as the "Flat Daddy Lady" and got an award from ABC for her work supporting military families. She's since written a second volume with even more great ideas, I'm Already Home . . . Again. You can buy her books from her website (above).
I'm now working with Elaine to help get as many Flat Daddies as possible into the hands of families who could benefit from them.
In the past, donors had two options:
1) Buy a Flat Daddy® for a family they know.
2) Buy a Flat Daddy® for an anonymous family.
Those options are still available.
But having them as the only options presented a slight problem: Not everyone who wants to help can pay out the cost of making and shipping a Flat Daddy. They cost nearly fifty dollars a pop.
Now there's a THIRD option:
Anyone can now donate to the Flat Daddy Project in any dollar amount they choose. That money goes toward the creation of future Flat Daddies.
If you can afford to go without a fast-food lunch once this week and donate five dollars, great! If you can donate ten or twenty dollars (or more!) on another day, even better! Whatever you can give will add up.
Finally: something you can do, more than once, even, to support military families, and it won't break the bank.
To donate, visit the Flat Daddy® page on my website and follow the directions.
That page also shows pictures of Mo's family with Flat Jared and features a clip from their local news about their experience.
Be sure to drop by; it's worth checking out.
NOTE: To buy a Flat Daddy® for a family you know, be sure to get their e-mail address. As you check out, you'll be prompted to enter the e-mail address. After your payment is cleared, the family will be sent a code they'll use to claim their Flat Daddy® at no cost to them.