When 44-year-old Scott “Howie” Dittman heard his friend Denna was going to attend Pittsburgh Pride with the LGBTQ support organization Free Mom Hugs, he wanted to tag-along to offer his help.
He bought a t-shirt that said “Free dad hugs” and joined their group, hopeful to add a little joy to the celebration, especially since many LGBTQ people feel estranged from or outright rejected by their dads. He didn’t expect how much the experience would mean to him… and thousands of others.
The first woman that Dittman hugged had tears in her eyes and thanks him profusely when they finished embracing.
In a now viral post about his experience on Facebook, Dittman wrote:
“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.”
The second person he hugged broke down in tears as well.
Ditton wrote, “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.”
Dittman told Buzzfeed News, “You could tell they hadn’t had something as simple as a hug from their dad in a long time,” he said. “That broke my heart.” It was an honor to be involved in that, but it was terrible at the same time.”
He concluded his Facebook post with these words:
“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.”
Since sharing his story, Dittman says he’s been contacted by over 1,500 people: Some have been rejected by their parents, but many rejected their own kids. Some of the parents have since reached out to their kids after years of no communication, to try and give the love they should’ve given them long ago.
It just goes to show how a simple act of kindness and public love can positively impact hundreds of people you’ve never even met.