His daughter wanted to be a princess. So Jeremiah Heaton searched the globe for land he could claim as her "kingdom."
The Abingdon, Va., man finally settled on Bir Tawil, a 2,000-square km area left unclaimed from a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan. For his daughter Emily's seventh birthday on June 16, Heaton travelled 14 hours through open desert to reach the territory. He then planted a flag, and declared Bir Tawil the "Kingdom of North Sudan."
"The Kingdom is established as a sovereign monarchy with myself as the head of state; with Emily becoming an actual Princess," Heaton wrote on Facebook.
"I kindly request that when you see Emily, to address her by official title, Princess Emily. Each time she hears this title she will be reminded of my love and the lengths I will go to fulfill her every wish," he added.
As The Washington Post reports, the quest began last winter after Emily, then 6, asked him whether she could ever be a real princess.
"The only answer I could give my sweet little girl was 'Yes, of course you will be a princess one day!'" he explained on Facebook.
To make good on his promise, Heaton, whom The Washington Post says works in the mining industry, then spent weeks researching until he learned of Bir Tawil. A Facebook photo shows Heaton standing on a rocky mound in front of a blue flag, which he says he planted in the East African region.
Aside from questions about the legitimacy of his land claim, Heaton's story has provoked online discussion about how far parents should go to carry out their children's wishes.
The comments on Heaton's Facebook page are overwhelmingly supportive, applauding what they see as a father's demonstration of love and devotion. But some interpret it as a disturbing display of parental overindulgence.
"Maybe instead of giving in to the kid's whims, maybe he should have just tried to tell her that little girls can aspire to be more than princesses," one commenter, using the name "wadejg" wrote on The Washington Post site.
"This story literally makes me feel sick. What a 'first world' problem," says another commenter with the user name, aussie7. "What about all the little girls in the neighbouring countries that say Daddy I would like some food in my stomach."
Sara Dimerman, a psychologist and parenting book author in Thornhill, Ont., warns that parents can set their children up for disappointment when they go to great lengths to cater to their wishes.
For starters, she says, when young children say they to want to be princesses, they typically want little more than to play act in fancy gowns and tiaras. Similarly, young children who say they want to be movie stars or rock stars may merely want the opportunity to dress up and perform in front of friends and family. It would, thus, be a disservice to them to take their requests literally.
Moreover, parents who give their children everything they want risk raising them to have unrealistic expectations later in life, Dimerman says.
While there is nothing wrong with helping children carry out their dreams and fantasies, parents should make the effort to understand what their children really want, she advises. And when determining the appropriate course of action, parents should ask themselves: "Who am I doing this for?" In other words, is the end goal to make the child happy, or to fulfill the parent's own desires?
"Not everything has a fairy tale ending," Dimerman says. "There's lots of ways of showing love and devotion without having to go to the extreme."