Why Didn’t You Tell Me About Daddy Lookalikes?

YDU blueorange

The first time I saw a kid run up to a service member who wasn’t his daddy was in the commissary in the dry goods aisle. You know, the one with rice and beans and spaghetti and for some strange reason Hispanic food too? That one.

“Daddy!!!!!!” the well-meaning toddler shrieked with glee as his mom hustled to catch up. The kid had clearly climbed out of that grocery cart/firetruck apparatus that I imagine was designed solely to punish young mothers of boys.

The mom knelt down and explained to her son that no, this wasn’t Daddy.  And, yes, Daddy is at work.  And no, you won’t see him for another few months. And look! Isn’t the kind of cookies you like to eat?

That mom handled it like a pro.

Me?  I was dumbstruck and it wasn’t even my kid.  I  had tears streaming down my face as I put my canned corn in the basket. That poor kid! How heartbreaking!  Daddy’s probably deployed and they won’t Skype until gosh knows when. How does this mother ever even come onto base knowing that she’s putting her kids into a potentially scarring Daddy Lookalike scenario??

I though I could never do that.  Until I had to.

Now I have a young toddler son of my own. You know the kind–the boy who looks at Daddy as if he hung the moon. The boy whose daddy wears the special boots that sit by the door. The boy whose daddy wears those patches that are fun to rip off his uniform and teeth on. The boy whose daddy is big and strong and important….and gone.

That Daddy had a four month TDY while we were living on base. So even though every trip to the base features a Daddy Lookalike scenario, off to the commissary we must go.

“DADDY!” our son hollers at the first flight-suit-wearing-short-haired-male he sees. (Which, if your Air Force base is anything like mine, is every other person.)

So now I know that feeling. I know that I-am-your-mother-and-I-want-to-shield-you-from-any-and-all-pain feeling. I felt it coming up in my throat. My eyes got hot with tears. I froze.

This. This is what it’s like. Awful. Miserable. Heart wrenching and nauseating and NOT GOOD IN ANY WAY.

But I stuffed it back down. And calmly said, “Nope, that’s not Daddy, see? Whoopsies! Isn’t that silly? Look! It’s Mr. Sir! Say hi to Mr. Sir, can you?”

Daddy Lookalike was very good about playing along and waving hello and giving a high five.

What I’ve learned now from the reality of living in proximity to lots of potential Daddy Lookalikes is a lesson in resiliency. I mean, my heart sometimes still flutters when I see someone looking like my husband in uniform, so I can’t imagine what is going through my kid’s mind and heart.

The reality of modern military service dictates that separation is simply part of the deal. No one and nothing can prepare a family for how we’ll react when faced with this reality. The unfairness is real. The bad timing is real. The bitterness of goodbye and the relief at reunification is real.

Resiliency is how we get through it. Personally, I like the lesson that it has taught my son.  Now, instead of associating the uniform with Daddy, he now understands that lots of people wear outfits like his. There are lots of patches and boots and short hair. But no one is just like his Daddy. There is only one.

The military is only one part of his daddy that makes him unique and special. Likewise, the military makes lots of people special.

Now instead of fearing the Daddy Lookalike encounter, I’m simply hopeful for more of the friendly, high-fiving Daddy Lookalikes who understand what it means for a dad to be far away from his little boy.

Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story.  If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.

Sarah writes about life in the US Air Force, raising a Jewish family and interfaith marriage. She lives in the southwest with her husband, son and daughter. Her idea of perfection is walking her dog, reading in a hammock and eating breakfast tacos.

About the Author

Why Didn't You Tell Me
Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story. If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.
  • Shawna

    Oh man, I will NEVER forget when this happened to my little one at the 24 hour. I can’t say as I blamed my 2 year old daughter for being confused, I had to look a couple times to see that it was in fact not my husband. My husband was wounded, and we knew that he would be home, we knew that we wouldn’t be picking him up, or have the traditional homecoming, but that someone would drop him off at home, with little or no notice. I went to get a few things that I only keep stocked up when he was home, never when he wasn’t as I was pregnant and didn’t want to turn into a blimp eating it lol. This tall Pvt was standing behind me and first I smelled it, all to familiar, and my brain told me, oh God, there he is, my husband, standing behind me, sneaking up on me like he’d done so many times, then my little girl yelled out “DADDY YOU ARE HOME!” ran to this soldier, much faster than I could catch up and was in his arms before I could get to her. I rushed over, as fast as I could at 9 and a half months pregnant, to this very nice man that I had to triple take out to see that it wasn’t my husband, with tears running down his face as my little girl told him how much she missed him and that she never wanted him to leave her, mommy, and baby sister to be, ever again. He was so sweet, explained to her that he was not her daddy, but that her daddy sent him to tell her that he loved and missed her and to make sure that mommy had help carrying things to the car. I will never forget Pvt Johnson, and the amazing way that he talked to my baby girl, making sure not to mention too much, but to let her know that her daddy loved her and would be home “as soon as he could” then carried her to the car for me as she would not let go of him because he knew her daddy and she wanted to hear more. My husband did not get back home for two more weeks, and one newborn later, and I will never forget the look on her face when I opened up our front door for what I thought was my neighbor, to see him standing there, and the joy when she got to “show” daddy her new baby sister. I’m one of the lucky few, my husband will never have to leave again, but 12 years and 5 deployments later you just roll with the punches and try to make your babies understand as best you can. It doesn’t get easier, your children crying because they want daddy to put them to bed, or kiss their ouchy, rips at your heart, but fellow soldiers are usually great with children when things like that happen.

    • jacey_eckhart

      Oh, Shawna, your story made me cry. Thank heavens for Pvt Johnson. Sometimes our guys in uniform really are that wonderful.

    • JaneI

      What a beautiful story. Thank God for the Pvt Johnsons of the world.

    • Susan

      That made me cry! Such a good story, I love that he said her daddy sent him. I’m sure it made it made for less heartbreak that it wasn’t her daddy.

  • Matthew

    A touching & emotional event indeed. Very tough to get over these small plays also for the “Daddy”.

  • USN Ret/Navy Wife

    Sarah and Shawna, you made me cry. Thank you both for sharing your experiences and also for the servicemen who know the right things to say and do!

  • Laura

    I remember when my own son who was 3 years old at the time latched onto this soldier’s leg just as we were leaving the Army hospital. I couldn’t convince my son that he was not Daddy. The soldier told me not to worry and took my son’s hand. He held his hand as we walked out to my van and put him in his car seat. (He must have a little one too because he knew how to buckle him in.) He told him to be good boy for Mommy. Then went back inside as we drove off.

  • sabrinacking

    When our son was a toddler he walked right up to the darkest African American soldier in the parking lot of Madigan and attached himself to the young soldier’s leg. This was really funny because my husband is Polish and is so white he doesn’t tan, just burns and peels and my son had just attached himself to a young soldier who couldn’t look any more different than my husband if he tried. Like everyone else..the young soldier was graceful with our son and it was a funny moment for the soldier and me. All our son saw was (way back then) BDUs…he didn’t see race, height, weight…just a set of BDUs. BDUs meant Daddy and that was all he cared about.

  • Sarah B

    Palmer B. – Ref. the about section. You will notice this column is for readers to share their own experience. From what I can tell it doesn’t require writing experience to do so. I think many if us can tell that this piece comes from the heart and not an experienced author. It might have been a bit awkward to read because of what you normally read. That’s okay. It was for me too. It’s one of those times you power through it with your heart leading the way. A sort of “anyone can notice but only a fool would mention it” moment. If she intends to become a regular writer, then this is a good place to start. There is no need to stunt passion. However, this might be a first and only time article. I appreciate those. Because they come from people like me. Well done Sarah. We are not all accomplished writers, but we can all have a time to share our voice and experience. We are valuable. And with practice and experience our voice can become stronger.