"I’ve had so many parents reach out to me saying they’ve been crying for days, saying they’ve been those parents, and they’ve reached out to their children they haven’t talked to in years."
The world could use some more hugs and Scott Dittman is happy to oblige.
To many Mr. Dittman is known by his nickname Howie and according to BuzzFeed the 44-year-old wasn't planning on becoming an LGBT ally but that's what happened over the weekend.
Howie overheard his friend Denna was giving out Free Mom Hugs at Pittsburg Pride. She is a part of the Free Mom Hugs organization that helps the LGBT community in many ways including reassuring embraces.
Howie says he decided to go with her and bought a "free dad hugs" T-shirt on Amazon, "I just thought it would put a smile on people’s faces."
But his compassion and empathy did more than just make people smile, his hugs were so comforting they brought tears to people's eyes.
He says the first person to take him up on his hug offer was a woman, "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."
The next embrace came from a tearful man whose parents abandoned him when he was 19 for being gay.
"He just sobbed and sobbed and thanked us," said Dittman. "He just melted. It was an honor to be involved in that, but it was terrible at the same time."
From there the hugs continued. There seemed to be common theme as people approached him, "You could tell they hadn’t had something as simple as a hug from their dad in a long time," he said. "That broke my heart."
According to BuzzFeed, Howie returned home after the event and reflected on the people he met and the pain they were in. He took to social media and wrote how he felt.
"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," he wrote. "Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be."
His generosity was recognized by hundreds of people who sent him messages telling their stories of abandonment and exclusion. But not all the messages were so somber.
"I’ve had so many parents reach out to me saying they’ve been crying for days, saying they’ve been those parents, and they’ve reached out to their children they haven’t talked to in years," Howie said.
"How do even describe that? How do you even describe the feeling that gives you?"
The "free hugs" movement has been growing over the last year, it's even getting a Hollywood movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
Curtis will portray Sara Cunningham, the founder of the "Free Mom Hugs."
“I hope to do justice to her story and the story of so many marginalized people in the LGBTQ community," Curtis said last year.
“I saw the impact that her movement has already had, in and around Oklahoma City. It’s exciting to watch something that was born out of such conflict develop into something of such deep compassion and expansive acceptance.”