Howie Dittman, a father from Pittsburgh, extended his parental support to hundreds of people in the LGBTQ+ community at the city's Pride Parade on June 9. Wearing a "Free Dad Hugs" shirt alongside a few other parents, Howie said he gave out "some super happy hugs," but many were much more emotional.
In a post to Facebook, Howie shared side-by-side photos of two hugs in particular. "Let me tell you about these two," he wrote. Speaking about the hug on the left-hand side of the above photo, Howie said: "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."
"Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger."
As for the photo on the right, Howie said he doesn't know the specifics but knows that he was spotted by the person from across the street, who was in tears by the time they embraced. "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."
The dad continued, addressing parents specifically:
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.
Scroll through for the rest of the emotional photos Howie's shared since the parade.