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An offer of acceptance: Free dad hugs

Mark Radlinski, a local teacher, came to an LGBTQ event at Miami to offer free hugs to students.
Mark Radlinski, a local teacher, came to an LGBTQ event at Miami to offer free hugs to students.

Mark Radlinski is a 53-year-old father of one. He’s an elementary school teacher at McGuffey Montessori in Oxford. He spends most days teaching his students everything from math to social studies to physical education.

To the average passerby, he might look a little out of place at a Miami University event celebrating queer students and their identities. But for Radlinski, that may be the point.

On National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, Radlinski offered hugs to people whose parents don’t offer them the love and support they need with their identities.

Standing next to the seal, in the middle of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion’s event, Radlinski held a sign that read “FREE DAD HUGS.” Each letter was a different color of the pride and transgender flags. He wore sunglasses, a newsboy cap and a mechanic shirt with a pride flag patch, plus a patch with the name “Lark.” 

Radlinski knows that many queer people have parents who don’t support them. As the father of a queer child, he’s always wanted to make people feel safe and comfortable in their own skin.

Radlinski, who has lived in Oxford since 1992, is a member of Oxford Area PFLAG, a group that unites parents, families and children together to support queer people.

He’s frustrated that many parents don’t allow their kids to identify as who they are, and he wants to make a difference. After three years of offering hugs to kids who need one in Oxford, he’s learned how important it is to do what he’s doing.

“There are always some that just feel … necessary,” he said. “This year, with the current environment, a lot of them have felt necessary.”

He remembers some dad hugs more than others. He notices the hugs for people who clearly need one. He remembers the student who saw him from across the quad, in front of Roudebush Hall, and ran across the lawn to get a hug.

“There’s always two or three that bring me to tears,” Radlinski said.

Offering these hugs feels good. It’s rewarding for Radlinski, whose love language is touch. He plans to keep offering hugs, so kids and students like Nick Beuscher, a first-year, can experience acceptance in a way they hadn’t before.

Beuscher’s dad doesn’t support him, and he doesn’t have a mom. He’s “a very big hug person” and Radlinski’s simple offering was just what he needed.

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“I felt super accepted,” Buescher said. “I felt super loved and it was really what I needed.”