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Flat Daddies

Air Date: 01/04/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.   It's the holiday season, a time when we're reminded constantly about the importance of family and love and connection. It's also wartime, although it's easy to forget that fact, since we don't see military aircraft flying overhead or hear bombs whistling through the air. In fact, for most Americans these days, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is something that happens on the evening news and in the papers. Most of the time, it's easy to forget it's happening at all.             Unless someone in your family is serving in the military, that is. For families with a mom or dad, a son or daughter serving in the United States military, war is an everyday reality, something that keeps the person they love far away for months, even years at a time. And in those years, what happens to partners and children? We talk often about the importance of love and time together, that connection always comes before correction. How do you connect with someone who's rarely at home and whose children are growing up without him or her?             Parade magazine and the New York Times have run stories recently about one solution to this problem. Some military families have received a "flat daddy" or a "flat mommy"-a life-sized cut-out photograph of their missing family member. And the response has been amazing. Marissa Stewart lives in Washington with her three young children; her husband Jared was serving in Iraq until just recently. But Jared had a stand-in, a "flat daddy" that the family nicknamed "Flat Jared" and eventually, FJ.             Flat Jared stood in the kitchen while his family ate dinner; he hung out in the living room when they watched TV. FJ went to soccer games and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese; his children talked to him and even dressed him up in Halloween costumes. FJ posed for photos with his kids, appearing to hold them on a swing or kneel behind their chairs. Some people who saw FJ out in public with his family thought he was a bit odd, even a little creepy-but FJ's kids loved him. He allowed them to feel connected to their father even though their father was far away.             Marissa recounts that perhaps the toughest moment was when the family car was stolen with Flat Jared inside it. The car eventually was recovered, but FJ was found broken and stained in a nearby mud puddle. According to Marissa, her children wondered who would want to hurt their daddy. A donor stepped up and provided a new Flat Daddy-and best of all, last November the real Jared returned home safely to his family.             This story made me want to find my son and hug him, then find my husband and hug him, too. Yes, the everyday grind of life together can be frustrating, even irritating. We snap at one another, lose our tempers, and occasionally wonder what life might be like somewhere else. But the reality is that for better or worse, we have one another. When we mess things up, we can go and apologize and ask for a hug. We can watch our children sleep in their beds. We have our families, even when those families make us a bit crazy from time to time.             Regardless of what you think of the war itself, there is no question that thousands of fine men and women are serving there, doing their best at grave risk to themselves to support the ideals they believe in, and going months without smiles and hugs from the people they love. They have babies they've never held, and children who are taking their first steps, growing up, and graduating from high school without them. It's a high price to pay.             A "flat parent" isn't the answer for everyone, perhaps. But if you're feeling grateful for the presence of those you love around your table this holiday season, and if you're lucky enough to be able to reach out and hug those you care about, you might want to look into doing something for the families who are doing without a loved one. If you're curious, you can learn more by going to flatdaddies.com.             In the meantime, take a moment as this new year begins to appreciate what you have. All families have problems, and some of us are really struggling at the moment. But it's a rare family where there isn't some love to be found. Don't let another day go by without making a real connection with those you love. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.