When Daddy's deployed

A mother and son publish a book to help kids cope when parents are sent to war

December 11, 2005|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

At the tender age of 6, Isaac Yohn knows how it feels for a kid to miss his daddy.

He knows how it feels to pray, night after night, for him to come home safely from war.

And he knows how it feels to finally wrap his arms around his hero, once again.

But Isaac didn't always know these things.

Starlight, star bright,

Keep my daddy safe tonight.

My daddy is in Iraq,

Please hurry and bring him back.

After living without his father for a year - save for a two-week visit last summer - Isaac, with the help of his mother, Debbie, has published a 22-page book that he hopes will help other children who have parents away at war.

"I hope it helps remind them of their dads and moms," the precocious Manchester boy said. "It's important because they want something to remind them ... so they don't get sad."

When Debbie learned that her husband, Bill, an Army reservist, would have to leave for Iraq just before Christmas last year, she looked for ways to explain it to Isaac, her youngest son, then a kindergartner at Manchester Elementary.

While his father was gone, Isaac started attending North Carroll Christian Academy. This year, he's in first grade.

Debbie wanted to help Isaac understand what was about to happen to his family.

She searched for something, maybe a book, that could help her make sense of it for him.

"Bill had never gone away," she said. "He was almost 5 years old when Bill was called to go to Iraq."

When she couldn't find anything, she decided to help Isaac make a scrapbook that would include photos and drawings. She jotted down overheard conversations between son and father. She wrote down the poignant poems and phrases, filled with so much meaning, that Isaac would surprise her with. She tucked these things inside a binder.

Memories rush in and overwhelm little Isaac.

"Isaac," his mommy gasps.

"Look at the sky!"

"I see it, I see it!" squeals Isaac.

"God has painted a beautiful sky tonight."

Looking up at daddy, Isaac asks with small tears escaping his eyes.

"When God paints the sky a bright beautiful color here, will you see it where you are?"

"Oh yes, I sure will," his daddy smiles.

The scrapbook was something Isaac could carry with him and flip through to remember his father. He carried it around with him everywhere he went for the first two months after his father left.

"When he was lonely, he would pull out his book and look at it," his mother said.

Soon, friends were asking her to make them copies of the scrapbook.

"At first I was photocopying them at Staples," she said. "But eventually a printer offered to help with printing costs."

A friend provided colorful illustrations for the book. In one, a father holds a little boy's hand. That's him and his dad, Isaac points out. Another shows father and son sitting under the stars.

"Isaac," said his dad, as he cradles his son.

"Where is our star?"

"It is not out yet silly, it is not dark enough yet!"

"You are right Isaac, but it will be soon.

The night is like the sadness we feel

Right now, with daddy leaving.

But even in the night, when we feel sad

God has given stars of light

To remind us that we are loved."

The family has sold about 500 copies of the book, Debbie said. She and Isaac have donated nearly 100 copies to other families. Proceeds are placed in a fund that benefits military families, she said.

The Community Foundation of Carroll County - a nonprofit organization that receives, invests and distributes funds for charitable, cultural and educational purposes throughout the county - is managing the Yohns' book fund.

Isaac does his part to peddle the book whenever he has the opportunity. One time, his mother recalls, was when she was the keynote speaker at a Prom Promise event for teens in Bel Air.

"He stood up and asked if he could say something," she said. "I had no idea what he was going to say."

Her son hastened to the stage and made his plea:

"I'm Isaac, and I have a dad in Iraq," he said. "We have a magic book, and it's about saying bye-bye to daddies. We help families."

Several people in the crowd bought books on the spot, his mother recalled.

Isaac's father returned home last week, and life for the Yohns is slowly returning to what it was more than a year ago.

With the family's two other children - Josh, 13, and Micah, 16 - Isaac is eagerly awaiting Christmas. They've been waiting all year with a fully decorated tree sitting in a nearby room.

"Isaac wouldn't let us put it away. He said, `Daddy hasn't had Christmas yet,'" the mother said.

Isaac is grateful to have his father back. He wishes the same for all the other children with parents away at war, he said.

What started out as a "little project" has blossomed into a mission.

"We were going to be finished by the time his dad returned, but I don't think it has an ending yet," Debbie said. "As long as we have troops in Iraq and little kids having to say bye to Mommy and Daddy, we have a need for this."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

To purchase a book, contact the Community Foundation at 410-876-5505. The book costs $10.

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