Flat Daddy: Unique program keeps local dad close to kids during deployment

PERRY COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - It's always a table for six when the Ferrar family goes out for dinner at the Pizza Inn in Fruitland.

As mom Nickie helps Trey get his plateful, sisters Raelynn, Elizabeth, and Danyel wait patiently at the table.

Dad Rusty is actually in two places at once--serving with the Missouri National Guard overseas, and sitting right here with his family.

Meet Flat Daddy.

He's a cardboard cutout of Rusty's image from the waist up.

On this night, Flat Daddy sits in the chair between Elizabeth and Raelynn.

The kids take turns "feeding" him pizza.

"I love it!" Trey exclaims, when I ask what he thinks about Flat Daddy.

"How come?" I ask.

"Because it's just like he's always with us, everywhere."

"He's been to church," Nickie says of the cardboard cutout of her husband. "He's been to Pizza Inn. He's been bowling."

I ask about a photo she sent me of Flat Daddy in a party hat. "He went to a New Year's Eve party, yeah."

Oldest daughter Raelynn has a favorite Flat Daddy day.

"My birthday," she tells me.

"Did I see a picture of him with a crown?" I ask Raelynn.

"Yeah," she giggles.

Nickie found Flat Daddy online.

She posted a comment on the web site, www.flatdaddies.com  saying she'd like to get one for her kids.

A return email announced a Flat Daddy would be donated to the Ferrars.  They just had to supply the picture.

When I interviewed the Ferrar children at their home in Altenburg, Elizabeth had the choice seat.

"I'm sitting on Daddy's lap," she tells me, leaning back on the cutout set up on the couch behind her.

"What did you think when you first saw Flat Daddy?" I ask.

"I thought it was really cool," Elizabeth responds. "Now it feels like he's really here with us."

While Rusty Ferrar's image is at home, the real dad is in Qatar on his second tour of duty overseas with the National Guard unit based out of Jackson.

The kids didn't have Flat Daddy during that first deployment, or the Daddy dolls they sleep with, or the special dog tags they wear.

Too shy to be interviewed, I got Danyel to read me her tag.

"Danyel A. Ferrar, daddy's little girl," she says.

So, what does Rusty think about his two-dimensional stand in?

"I don't know," Nickie tells me, "he hasn't said."

"But he knows you go around town with a cardboard cutout of him?" I ask.

"Yeah," she says with a laugh.

It's clear the Ferrar's don't do this for attention, at least not anyone else's.

Nickie says they have had their meal paid for, and she's heard a few thank yous which she appreciates, even though she says she's just doing her job as mom.

"When you walk in and say I want a table for six, does anybody ever look at you funny?" I ask.

"They did the first time, but know I think people are getting used to seeing it," Nickie tells me.

Copyright 2012 KFVS. All rights reserved.