Since a dad from Karns City, Pa., gave out free “dad hugs” to more than 700 people at Pittsburgh Pride last week, photos of his act of kindness have gone viral. Taking a cue from FreeMomHugs.org — which was started after its executive director Sara Cunningham, the Christian mom of a gay child — went viral for offering to stand in as a mom at same-sex weddings whose families refused to attend, Dittman bought a “free dad hugs” tee and headed to Pride.
"I went out on Amazon Prime and ordered a shirt and went down on Sunday just to try to put a smile on people’s faces,” Dittman told KDKA in Pittsburgh. “You’d see people that were completely happy in the middle of this festival and then they’d see that 'free dad hug' shirt and it was like a switch was flipped.”
"Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger... just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad." Mighty Dad Howie Dittman gave out 700 dad hugs at Pittsburgh's #Pride parade. https://t.co/Km0VDWD371 pic.twitter.com/a01cxp0ULV
— amightygirl (@amightygirl) June 15, 2019
Dittman shared with the press the story behind the viral photo of him hugging a man whose parents kicked him out of the house when he was 19 for being gay.
“That was 30 years ago,” Dittman said. “As a parent, I couldn’t get my head around that.”
A member of the group Helping Butler County, Dittman told CNN, “We just try to identify needs in the community and fill those needs. We don’t start with labels or end with labels. We just try to do good human things.”
Since word first got out that he opened his heart to LGBTQ people at Pride, Dittman has heard from parents who support his actions and those who don’t, he said. He also wrote a post on Facebook urging parents to accept their LGBTQ kids.
“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 t-shirt offering hugs from a dad,” Dittman wrote.
“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 had to shoulder that burden.”