Dolls help comfort children of deployed dads

Three-year-old Samantha Tinney holds on to her “Daddy Doll” in September 2005 at her home in Swansboro, N.C. Samantha’s dad, Marine Corps Lt. Clarence Tinney, was deployed to Iraq for eight months.


By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 4, 2006

Tricia Dyal said she remembers when her Marine husband was deployed and she had to take her two young daughters to the hospital.

“They were both crying for Daddy, and we were trying to find a way for Daddy to be there,” said Dyal, 32.

The Jacksonville, N.C., woman said she contacted her great aunt for help, and the aunt made a crude doll out of rags with a picture of the young girls’ father on it.

Dyal said that when she gave the doll to her daughters, whose ages were about 4 and 1 at the time, they were immediately soothed.

“My 4-year-old started crying, ‘My daddy, my daddy,’” she said.

The doctors were shocked at the effect the doll had on the children, and on a subsequent visit they asked Dyal for more such dolls for other patients, she said.

Since then, Dyal has co-founded Daddy Dolls, which has made more than 1,000 dolls from pictures of children’s loved ones serving overseas, she said.

There have also been about 150 Mommy Dolls, about 30 Grandparent Dolls and between five and 10 Aunt and Uncle Dolls made, Dyal said.

“We’ve even made Pet Dolls, head-to-toe shots of the dogs,” she said.

She said Daddy Dolls offers 12-inch dolls for $18.95 and 18-inch dolls for $21.95, and that all proceeds go toward making more dolls.

“We have not made one dime on this,” she said.

Dyal said most of her customers are deployed servicemembers who have visited the Daddy Dolls Web site at: www.daddydolls.com

She said the dolls of deployed loved ones come in especially handy at bedtime for youngsters.

“Because a lot of times, daddies do the bedtime prayers and daddies do the stories,” Dyal said.

Dyal said she has received feedback from troops overseas thanking her for the dolls and from families at home.

She recalled an e-mail from the mother of a girl who received a Daddy Doll three days after her father was killed in Iraq.

“She had thanked us, saying that because they had the doll now they will always have their daddy,” Dyal said.

Her husband, Maj. Justin Dyal, said his children’s Daddy Doll allows him to be with his family even when he’s overseas.

Dyal, 33, who is deployed to Djibouti, said Daddy Dolls also give peace of mind to troops overseas by letting them know their young children will still recognize them when they return.

In a Thursday e-mail to Stars and Stripes, Dyal said his youngest daughter was 7 months old when he left for Iraq and he was afraid she would not know him when he returned.

“There are plenty of stories of awkward reunions and kids scared of their daddies for a few weeks,” he said. “The night I came home, Tricia and I walked into my youngest’s room and the noise caused her to sit up in her crib. She rubbed her eyes looked at me for a minute, then looked over at her Daddy Doll and looked back at me with clear recognition. Pretty special.”

Jonah Friel, 9, and Shannon Friel, 5, at their home at Fort Hood, Texas. Their dad, Capt. John Friel of the 4th Infantry Division, is currently deployed to Iraq.

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