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Flat Daddy cardboard cutouts help military families cope

Monday, November 24, 2008 | 4:58 p.m. CST; updated 11:46 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Amanda Stapp and Kathleen Kaumans, both of Columbia, watch as friends take their turns bowling on Sunday. A life-size cardboard mock-up of Stapp's husband, Jason Stapp, a National Guardsman deployed to Kosovo in May, accompanies the group to Town and Country Lanes almost every Sunday. The figure is designed to help loved ones cope with the absence of family members in the military.

COLUMBIA — Jason Stapp will be present at the dinner table this Thanksgiving, not his cardboard cutout version, “Flat Jason.”

Flat Jason is a coping device Jason’s wife, Amanda Stapp, invested in to ease the stress of her husband’s 400-day absence while he serves in the National Guard in Kosovo. The 3-foot piece of cardboard has a picture of Jason stuck to it that Stapp had her husband pose for before he left in March. Stapp carries him around with her for activities they would usually do together if Jason were home.

“Flat Jason will probably spend Thanksgiving in the closet,” she said last week. Stapp said that this year, they will celebrate the holiday privately in Columbia, instead of visiting each others' parents. Jason is scheduled to come home Wednesday, and the couple have 10 days together before his return to Kosovo.

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To donate a Flat Daddy to a family, go to Elaine Dumler's Web site, www.operationconnectafamily.com



She said she opted for the "Flat Daddy," the formal name of the waist-up cutout, as a way to keep Jason’s presence in her life during their time apart.

“It’s a reminder that I’m married, and he’s still with me even though he’s not," Stapp said. "I have single and married friends and without him with me, I feel in between, so with Flat Jason, it’s comforting to see his face. I like that daily reminder.” She and Jason married on Feb. 14 of this year.

Stapp, who found out about the Flat Daddy concept through the Internet, said the cutout cost her $50 and took about a month to arrive. Stapp said that although the military in Missouri would pay for the cutout, she decided to pay for it herself so she could get it faster.

"I get some strange reactions and people looking at me like I'm crazy," said Stapp, who is a senior information specialist at the MU Cooperative Media Group. "But once they realize that Jason has been deployed, they are very supportive."

The owner of Flat Daddy, Elaine Dumler of Denver, said she started the concept in December 2002 in hopes of helping young children connect to, and even recognize, a deployed parent when he or she returns.

"By no means are the Flat Daddies meant to take the place of a real person," said Dumler, who has put more than 8,200 of them into the homes of military families throughout the country since September 2005. "It's a fun source for the family and helps to bookmark a loved one until they return home."

Dumler said the concept of the Flat Daddy is inspired by the children's book, "Flat Stanley" by Jeff Brown, as well as by military families who expressed their struggles of missing a family member for long stretches.

"We make Flat Mommies, too, but they are in much less demand," Dumler said. "Out of the 8,200 made, probably 80 of them have been women." Flat Daddy is part of Dumler's company, Frankly Speaking, based out of Westminster, Colo.

"We try our best to get the Flat Daddies processed before the holidays," Dumler said. "This is usually the time people want them by, since we deal with a lot of donations where people are giving a Flat Daddy to a family as a Christmas present."

As for Stapp, she's counting the hours until her new husband comes home, however briefly, for the first time since he was deployed. "It'll be nice to have him there instead of Flat Jason."


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