FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dilan, left, Ethan and Connor each have a "Hug-A-Hero" doll, which Ethan and Connor take everywhere they go and Dilan sleeps with every night. "It was a great investment," mom Heather Hale said.
Daddy Dolls console the yearning
Elissa and Elena Dyal were hospitalized with a very bad virus when they were 6 months old and 4 years old, respectively. Two weeks before entering the hospital, their father went on his second deployment.
"They kept asking for Daddy," said Tricia Dyal, the girls' mother.
Tricia couldn't get him so she did the next best thing. She called her great aunt and the family crafter, Mary Cole, in South Carolina and asked her to make two dolls of her husband.
"I told her I didn't care how she did it, but please make them and send them quickly," Tricia said.
A couple days later the dolls were on their way to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where the Dyals still reside.
"Those dolls did wonders for my girls," Tricia said. "The doctor said every kid in this town should have one."
Tricia took that doctor's thought and, along with her friend Nikki Darnell, created Daddy Dolls Inc., which creates dolls devoted to helping ease the pain for those missing someone.
The "Hug-A-Hero" dolls come in 12-inch ($18.95) and 17-inch ($24.95) sizes and can be purchased online at daddydolls.com. As of July 1, the dolls will also be available at 40 different Army Air Force exchanges worldwide, including Hawaii.
In addition to the "Hug-A-Hero" dolls, the company has pillows, pillow cases, dog tags and photo puzzles for sale. The picture used can be of anyone who is being missed, including a pet.
"The dolls allowed Daddy to be part of everyday things and big things," Tricia said. "He's been there for all their birthdays (even though he was on deployment and has really missed every one so far), the first day of school for my younger one (and) Christmas."
But Tricia emphasizes that the dolls are not a replacement for the person. "It holds that spot in their heart until the person comes back."
The company also started working with overseas adoption agencies so soon-to-be parents can have a doll of themselves sent to their future child.
"When my husband returned home from deployment, Elissa was 15-months old," Tricia said. "She looked at her daddy doll and looked up at him and said, 'Daddy!' "