Not everyone has supportive family members to fall back on. But, sometimes, kind strangers step in to fill those shoes when they’re so desperately needed. Such is the example of Howie Dittman, a father who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Dittman, along with some other parents, attended the annual Pride Parade in Pittsburgh wearing a shirt that read “Free Dad Hugs”. And wouldn’t you know it, he made good on his promise, hugging dozens and dozens of attendees who were in need of some unconditional paternal love.
PARENTS.A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS…
According to Howie, he gave out some “super happy hugs”, while others were much more heart-wrenching, like the ones in the pictures he shared on social media.
Of the picture with the man on the left, Dittman shares, “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.”
For the picture on the right, he says, “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,” he wrote. “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.”
These stories break our hearts. As parents, we hope for our children to never feel lost in this world and without our love and support. Dittman feels the same way. In a final plea, he writes:
“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.”
In the words on writer and activist Glennon Doyle, “There’s no such thing as other people’s children”. We are thankful that Howie Dittman and a collection of his friends live by this motto and seek to love the people who feel unaccepted and cast out. We are continually inspired to do the exact same thing.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.