Everyone deserves a good dad hug, but that doesn’t mean they always get one.
So, when Scott Dittman—better known to his friends as Howie—heard about the group ‘Free Mom Hugs’ heading to the Pittsburgh Pride parade, he saw an opportunity to share his dad hug skills with anyone who might need them.
“My first thought was well if you had a hundred moms and a hundred dads presented with a child that identified with this population, my thought was that the moms overall would likely be more accepting so possibly dad hugs could be even more needed,” Dittman told CNN.
Outfitted with a shirt that boldly said “FREE DAD HUGS,” Dittman drove the 50 or so miles from his home in Karns City, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh for the annual gay pride parade on June 9.
He expected to proudly show his support and celebrate everyone present, but he was not truly ready for the incredible impact he would have by simply providing a safe and loving embrace.
“You go in thinking you’re just going to put a smile on a few peoples faces, and you come out knowing or understanding their struggle,” Dittman told CBS News. “It was life-changing, it really was.”
Dittman stationed himself on one side of the parade route and happily hugged hundreds throughout the day as they passed by. Some were excited and ran up with a smile on their face; others couldn’t help but get emotional at the gesture.
“There’s this young woman just with tears in her eyes and she threw her arms around me and thanked me and thanked me and thanked me,” Dittman told CNN. “Obviously, I wasn’t gonna be the one to let go first. But that’s when I realized that even though we headed down there to spread some joy and have some smiles and things like that that it was maybe going to turn out a little bit differently.”
The woman had been a lively participant in the parade along with many others but says a “switch flipped inside her” when she saw Dittman offering hugs from a father figure.
“It struck her from being in this kind of joyous festival kind of thing to just needing a dag hug, I suppose,” Dittman said.
Following the event, Dittman wrote a Facebook lengthy post about the experience, encouraging parents to simply love their children.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”