Man Pens Powerful Letter To Parents After Attending Pride Parade With 'Free Dad Hugs' T-Shirt

June 13, 2019

Howie Dittman wasn't planning on attending the Pittsburgh Pride Parade until he learned that his friend was going and wearing a shirt that said "Free Mom Hugs".

"And I just said, 'well I'm going to go,' and I hopped on Amazon and grabbed a 'Free Dad Hugs' t-shirt," he told BuzzFeed News. "I just thought it would put a smile on people's faces."

free dad hugs pride parade
Credit: Howie Dittman

What Howie didn't anticipate is the impact he would make, especially on two parade attendees.

This is what he wrote on Facebook about the experience:


A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS t-shirts. We gave out hundreds of hugs. Hundreds. Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two... and there were way too many like them.

Let me tell you about these two."

free dad hugs pride parade
Credit: Howie Dittman

"He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven't spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder.


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.

Her story?

I don't know the specifics. But 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.

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."

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