One man hung out at a Pride parade over the weekend and gave out free hugs, except they were worth more than that to plenty.
Howie Dittman arrived at the Pittsburgh Pride Parade ready to give out as many hugs as there were people. He even wore a shirt that said "FREE DAD HUGS."
He said he went there simply with the hopes of making someone feel better or putting a smile on their face. As it turned out, he did far more than that as he dealt out hundreds of hugs.
He came back from the event with a very clear message for parents of some of the people at the parade who identify as LGBTQ, or really, for any parents who've struggled to accept their children for who they are.
"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," he said in a Facebook post. "Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be."
Let's back up for a second and tell you about the meaningful interactions he had that moved him to write that post.
There were plenty of people moved by the gesture, but there were two people in particular with whom he described a touching interaction. Dittman said there were far too many like them.
He described a man, pictured below at left, who was “brought to his emotional knees” when he saw Dittman’s shirt.
“He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out,” Dittman's post reads. “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."
Dittman said he wasn’t sure of the specifics in the story of one woman in particular, pictured above at right, but that he couldn’t stop thinking about her and what she must be going through with her family.
“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."
Dittman said he couldn’t help but wonder what she must be going through with her family, and asked himself so many questions: 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?
You should know that Dittman, a father of a 10-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl, neither of whom identify as LGBTQ, is 100% a guy's guy.
"I hunt and fish and all that, (but) you can still be a guy's guy and be compassionate. You don't have to live up to stereotypes that other people set for you. We're just a bunch of people," he said.
He didn't go to the parade for the recognition. In fact, he first heard of a friend who was interested in the event -- a woman who was part of the organization freemomhugs.com, which fights for children who identify as LGBTQ.
Dittman said he thought there is far too much rejection, but part of him felt like, "The rate of rejection by fathers -- by men -- of their children, is likely higher than rejection of a mother."
He not only wants those who have felt rejected to feel genuinely loved, but for parents of those people to stop for a minute and think about what their rejection is doing to their children.
“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,” his post says.
If you're thinking this man is a role model of what others in society should be like, this was far from his first move to help someone in the community.
He started a group called Helping Butler County, which looks for people in the community to help -- from a veteran who has nowhere to sleep to a young girl who needs shoes.
Dittman obviously strives to help others, and he said that, even though people tell you, “You can’t save the world,” he doesn’t believe it.
“I hear it all the time. And I’ve decided that’s bull****,” he said in a Facebook post. “There isn't just one world. Everyone has their own. Each person has their own collection of experiences that colors their version of their world. And each person has a completely unique group of people contributing to their world. Every single person you meet has their own world. And there are no other worlds like theirs.”
He said he's received some 1,500 messages after people began hearing about what he had done at the Pittsburgh Pride Parade and that people have told him they've been so touched that they've reached out to an estranged child who revealed to them that they identified as LGBTQ. He said he's heard from people who heard from a parent who shunned them years prior.
"We saved some worlds that day."
Dittman said he's not into labels. He doesn't especially consider himself an LGBTQ ally, although his actions might prove otherwise. On that note, he said: "You don't have to be dedicated to a certain cause. It's possible to just do good things ... Make it a person thing instead of a label thing."
Dittman is determined to continue on his mission to #sparkkindness.
Does this man or this story inspire you to go do something good? Tell us about it in the comment section below.
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