The holiday season is a joyful time where families gather together in holiday cheer and reminisce about the year’s activities and adventures. As a balloon entertainer, I hear many stories from proud parents telling accolades about their kids. Many stories are about the child’s youth and how they’ve seen Santa and his reindeer in the sky, to how siblings torment each other in their daily activities. Once the story starts no one is exempt from ridicule. Even the sons and daughters who are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is fair game when it comes to family stories.
Jared, who is presently serving his second tour in Afghanistan, always finds a way to attend every family event. His devoted family loves to talk about him and they take pleasure in telling everyone about embarrassing moments in his life. This Thanksgiving was no exception. Sitting in Jared’s seat is a 2×3 foot color cutout of him in full army fatigues. Jared is a flat dad.
Flat dads are a way for military families to deal with loved ones serving overseas that cannot be with them during kid’s birthday parties, anniversaries, family events, and the holiday season. It’s hard for little ones to remember family especially when they don’t see them for long periods of time. The flat parent helps families over tough periods while giving them an opportunity to take pictures, dress them up and keep that person in their day-to-today activities. This simple cutout keeps the person in everyone’s thoughts and allows family and friends to reminisce about the missing love one. Jared’s kids carry 8×10 photos cut out of their dad in their backpacks and bring them everywhere they go.
This year he was attending Olympia Field Country Club for his Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve entertained Jared for several years and each time we meet, he challenges me to be more creative and outrageous with my balloon animals. This was the first time I met him as a flat dad. It was amazing how the family interacted and with the cutout of Jared. We joked and laughed like normal and I still made a balloon for him – a drunken reindeer.
This was my first encounter with a flat dad and found the experience amazing. I guess what shocked me most was that in 6-years at war, this was the first time I’d seen a flat dad. Apparently, military families have been doing this for some time and because it is not sponsored by the US Military it is up to individuals and organizations to spread the word. So if you have a loved one serving in the military this holiday season or know of somebody serving, get them a flat solider. You’ll be surprised at how overwhelmed, happy, and emotional a flat solider can bring to a family.
I look forward to seeing Jared again in person, bopping a balloon over a cutout wasn’t as fun for me, as it is hitting him for real.
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