“Today, I decided to wear this shirt to Pride in downtown Cincy. It’s not an original idea to offer ‘free dad hugs’ at Pride events, but it’s something I wanted to do, so I had a friend make a shirt for me anyway.
My daughter and I walked in the parade with friends, and it took a while for spectators to warm up to the idea, but they eventually started to ask me for hugs as we walked, and afterwards while attending the festivities at Sawyer Point.
Most of the hugs were happy and fun. People just enjoying the idea of it, gay, straight, male, female and otherwise alike. It was a blast! I think I got as much out of it as they did. Overall, it was a great event, full of good energy and positivity. But there were a few that have me breaking down as I type this.
One of the first hugs I gave, with a sullen look on her face, the girl whispered in my ear, ‘My dad hates me.’ A little later at Sawyer Point, a girl shyly walked up and very politely asked for a hug. There was deep pain in her eyes. We hugged for what seemed like forever, and she grabbed me like she was holding on for dear life. An hour later, standing in line for a snow cone, a girl pointed to my shirt and told her friend, ‘Hey, free dad hugs!’ The friend walked up to me and didn’t say a word, but the look on her face said everything I needed to know. I asked if she needed a hug, and she nodded yes. She hugged me as if she hadn’t seen me in years, even though we’d never met. She walked away in tears, without ever saying a word.
It’s hard for me to fathom a parent who doesn’t love their kid unconditionally, as I do mine. Nothing anyone can say will ever make me understand it. I have no interest in understanding it. To see the hurt on these kids’ faces…how could that not affect a parent on the deepest level?
I can’t get any of them out of my head. Those moments are forever ingrained now. I wish I knew their names, so I could hug them again. They all very clearly needed it. And they all probably need it again right now.
I’m nobody special. I’m just a regular ass dad. But you are seen. You are loved. If your dad isn’t there for you, I will be. Hugs. Talks. Whatever.”
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