When Scott Dittman learned that his friend was going to the Pittsburgh Pride parade to give out embraces with the LGBTQ advocacy group Free Mom Hugs, he thought that it would be nice to give out some dad hugs, too.
"My first thought was well if you had a hundred moms and a hundred dads presented with a child that identified with this population, my thought was that the moms overall would likely be more accepting so possibly dad hugs could be even more needed," Dittman told CNN
So he ordered a shirt online -- with the words "Free Dad Hugs" in large print -- and headed from his home in Karns City, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh for the annual gay pride parade on June 9.
Dittman says he thought he'd be in for a fun day, with people celebrating and partying but he also knew there might be some people who needed dad hugs.
But he didn't expect the emotional embraces some people gave him or how his story would touch so many people.
Dittman says that as he stood along the parade route a woman ran from across the street with tears in her eyes and hugged him while thanking him profusely.
"There's this young woman just with tears in her eyes and she threw her arms around me and thanked me and thanked me and thanked me," Dittman told CNN. "Obviously I wasn't gonna be the one to let go first. But that's when I realized that even though we headed down there to spread some joy and have some smiles and things like that that it was maybe going to turn out a little bit differently."
The woman told Dittman that she had been celebrating but a switch flipped inside her when she saw him offering hugs, he said. "It struck her from being in this kind of joyous festival kind of thing to just needing a dag hug, I suppose," Dittman told CNN.
Dittman said in a Facebook post that another young man embraced him and sobbed into his arms. The man had been kicked out at age 19 and hadn't spoken to his parents since.
Dittman said he gave out hundreds of hugs at the parade, some of them "super happy" and others less so.
In a Facebook post after the parade, he encouraged parents to love and accept their children.
"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," he wrote. "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."