At the Charleston Pride Parade, I carried a simple sign that said, “Free Dad Hugs”.

When my wife, Louise, was making the sign and told me I would be giving out free Dad hugs, my verbal reaction was, “Oh. Ok.”

On the inside, though, I was petrified! Not because I wasn’t a person who gave hugs; I hug my wife (at least once a day) and my kids (probably not as much as I should) and other family. So, I had some experience and knew I was at least capable of giving hugs.

Charles and Louise Monteith offering free mom and dad hugs at the 2018 Charleston Pride parade.

I was petrified for two reasons:

  1. These were hugs for strangers. Hugs for people I had not established a relationship with or any level of trust. And hugs are very personal. Hugging someone requires you to be in someone’s personal space and they’re in yours. Hugs are an intimate act and can be uncomfortable with someone you don’t know very well, or even at all. I had no experience with spontaneous stranger hugs.
  2. What if I’m carrying this sign, offering free hugs…and no one wants one. What would that do to my self-esteem? Walking 1.8 miles, through a gauntlet of people, and all I got was, “No thanks. I’ll pass.”

Although I was thrilled to be there and be a part of the wonderful event, my anxiety level was at an all-time high as the parade started. I decided at that moment, though,  I’m here and I’m I’m going to do it! And whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I was going to not worry about it. I was just going to enjoy the experience and just be in the moment. This wasn’t going to be about me, I was going to show my support and that I cared, and not expect anything in return.

And guess what? I got to hug very early on (albeit a “follow-up” hug for someone who had excitedly wanted a Free Mom Hug from Louise)!

Charles Monteith shares a hug during the 2018 Charleston Pride Parade.
Charles Monteith shares a hug during the 2018 Charleston Pride Parade.

And the person had hugged me so tightly and held onto me and as we separated and they started to turn away, they turned back and said, “I needed that so badly!” And I could feel the sincerity in the embrace and in their words. And from that point on I was a ALL IN.

From there on, it was 1.8 miles of Dad Hugs! I was one of only two advertisers for Dad Hugs and I was the only one walking in the parade. I had effectively cornered the Dad Hugs market at the Charleston Pride Parade.

In all those hugs I learned first hand that a hug is like a boomerang, you throw it out there and it comes right back to you!

Even though those embraces were painfully brief, the sincerity enveloped me completely. And some shared tiny fragments of what it meant to them. One person shared that they didn’t have a relationship with their father anymore. Another shared that her father had passed away recently and she missed him. I would tell them, all of them, “You’re beautiful.” And some would even respond, “No. YOU’RE beautiful.”

Members of Two Rivers march along side other United Methodists from the area during the 2018 Charleston Pride parade.
Members of Two Rivers march along side other United Methodists from the area during the 2018 Charleston Pride parade.

My anxiety had turned into an obsession for more hugs, more connection.

And in hindsight I realized, that act of kindness that I was extending to others was also being extended to me! My high level of anxiety was being replaced with a fierce determination to impact as many lives in a positive way  as I could with this simple, kind act. They were men, women and children,  all ages and races, all wanting to share an embrace for comfort and support and celebration.

And as the parade ended and the lines of people got thinner and thinner, I felt a little sad. I didn’t want it to end.

And guess what? It actually didn’t!

On the ride home my wife and I talked about the how great a day it was and how we wished there was a Pride festival everyday.

I realized, I can impact the lives of people I know and the lives of strangers everyday, in a positive way. With simple acts of kindness.

In John 13:34, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

And I got to experience that kind of love and kindness, and also share it through a Dad Hug.

Categories: Stories

Charles Monteith

Charles Monteith is the Chair of the Two Rivers Leadership Board and one of the founding leaders of Two Rivers Church.


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