It’s amazing how something as simple as a hug can mean the world to someone.
Many of us will take a hug from our parents for granted, perhaps even still shaking off the childish embarrassment of showing affection for your parents. But luckily most people grow out of that before too long.
However, when affection from your parents isn’t part of your life, it can be something which is sorely missed.
Scott ‘Howie’ Dittman heard his friend Denna was going to Pittsburgh Pride with the organisation Free Mom Hugs, a group which assists LGBT people and provides hugs at Pride events.
As 44-year-old Dittman put it: ‘And I just said, ‘well I’m going to go,’ and I hopped on Amazon and grabbed a ‘free dad hugs’ T-shirt.’
The reaction he received at the Pride event was far beyond what he expected, as total strangers embraced Dittman, some laughing, some crying, some just soaking it all in.
The first person to hug Dittman was the woman on the right:
Scott told BuzzFeed News:
I turned around and she’s just standing there in front of me with tears in her eyes.
She just threw her arms around me and just thanked me over and over and over again.
While the man on the left was the second person to hug Scott, who reportedly told the 44-year-old he was abandoned by his parents when he came out aged 19.
He just sobbed and sobbed and thanked us. He just melted. It was an honor to be involved in that, but it was terrible at the same time.
Posting on social media about the hug, Scott 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. 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.
According to Scott, a switch would flip when people saw him, and he experienced all kinds of hugs at the Pride event, from happy, joyful to the emotionally overwhelming.
You could tell they hadn’t had something as simple as a hug from their dad in a long time. That broke my heart.
Scott’s emotional Facebook post has touched thousands of people, being shared 234,000 times at the time of writing.
As he wrote:
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.
Scott ended by saying: ‘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.’
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.