When Scott Dittman, known as Howie to his friends, found out his friend Denna Hays would be attending the Pittsburgh Pride Parade to give out "free Mom hugs," he decided to tag along to offer "free Dad hugs."
The event left a major impact on Dittman and inspired him to send a message to parents.
Dittman took to his Facebook page and penned a note from his heart.
"A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS t-shirts. We gave out hundreds of hugs. Hundreds. Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two... and there were way too many like them."
"Let me tell you about these two."
"He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven't spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had. I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9th, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said "FREE DAD HUGS" on a complete stranger."
"Her story? I don't know the specifics. But I know that she saw me from across the street. I wasn't paying attention. By the time she got to me, she had tears in her eyes. She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I'll never forget. She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back. She held on for so long, melting into me, and thanked me endlessly."
"And I can't stop thinking about her. What she must be going thru with her family... the ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what. Who does she go to when she needs advice on love, money or just life? Who does she share old memories with that only her parents would have been there for? What are her holidays like? How often does she hope for that phone call, with unconditional love on the other end?"
"I don't know her story. But it doesn't feel like a huge leap to assume she's lost those who should love her the most and forever."
"Imagine that, 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. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be."
"Please don't be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met WAY too many of them, of all ages, today."
"And 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."
Dittman credited his friend Denna with his being there that day.
He made sure to give a shout out to the organization Hays founded, the Butler County Alliance for Children.
His story and appeal to parents resonated with people online where his original post was shared over 230,000 times on Facebook. It made its way to Twitter too.
Others shared similar stories of their own parents or themselves offering hugs and support at Pride.
At 34 years old I (extremely queer) am going to Pride for the first time bc my almost 70 yo dad wants to wear a "fr… https://t.co/ATUColsa6y— Caitlín Rosberg (@Caitlín Rosberg)1560377022.0
@crosberg @AlexandraErin I recently had a kid, so I can give out real Dad hugs now. Mentioned that in a queer space… https://t.co/OBnxOk9eAU— John M. Atkinson (@John M. Atkinson)1560393246.0
@Dekarch @crosberg @AlexandraErin Perfect! I stole this - but, yes! https://t.co/OdW2ZE8KgU— Mary Peters (@Mary Peters)1560399898.0
“I miss this." "My mom doesn’t love me anymore." "My dad hasn’t spoken to me in three years." "Please just one more… https://t.co/Mihe7ckGE6— ᕼ.ᗩ.ᒪYᑎᑎ (@ᕼ.ᗩ.ᒪYᑎᑎ)1559827651.0
There was this dude at pride this year who was giving out "free dad hugs" hug was great but when he looked me in t… https://t.co/jSknZIF55y— D.Donnell♡ (@D.Donnell♡)1560144653.0
at pride, i saw so many people giving out “free mom/dad hugs” and i almost cried. me, an aquarius. almost cried bc… https://t.co/rXEjddqGAf— grace (@grace)1560044677.0
Happy Pride people!
And if you're so inclined, give out a few hugs to some folks who may need one.