When Scott Dittman showed up at a Pride parade with a “Free Dad Hugs” t-shirt, he had no idea the impact it would have. The 44-year-old (who goes by Howie) decided to join his friend Denna at Pittsburgh Pride after learning that she was attending with Free Mom Hugs, an organization that supports LGBT people.
Dittman told BuzzFeed News that bought a “Free Dad Hugs” shirt on Amazon and accompanied Denna to the event. “I just thought it would put a smile on people’s faces,” he said.
But his experience at the parade was far more than that. Dittman later penned a Facebook post about his time at Pride, including the stories of two particularly meaningful interactions. He said he gave lots of hugs; some joyful and fun, but others held a great deal of pain.
The first person to approach him was a young woman who Dittman says had tears in her eyes and “a look of sadness and helplessness that I’ll never forget.”
Dittman also described an encounter with a man whose family disowned him after he came out at age 19. “He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had,” Dittman wrote. “I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day.”
The post ends with a plea to parents: “Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad…Please don’t be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden.”
Dittman’s post now has over 323,000 likes and 236,000 shares, with an outpouring of heartfelt comments.
But Dittman’s support didn’t end there. He ended the caption by saying, “If by chance anyone knows these folks, please let them know they can reach out any time they need a surrogate dad to talk to. I’ll be there.”
PARENTS.A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS…