Derek Hales held the picture of him gingerly tilting his head toward his autistic 6-year-old son after getting their portrait taken Saturday afternoon at the Ruth L. Bennett Community Center. He momentarily paused and then in a soft voice, said, "It's beautiful."For two hours Saturday afternoon, the organization Fathers Are Talking sponsored a portrait session with Delaware County Daily Times photographer Julia Wilkinson and her assistant, Caitlin Ryan of Caitlin Ryan Photography at the community center.
Fathers were invited to bring their child or children for a formal portrait and were given complementary 4 X 6 color pictures.Wilkinson volunteered her services after covering a Fathers Are Talking meeting a few weeks ago.Uncomfortable in the spotlight herself, she hoped the fathers who participated would be excited."Father's Day isn't easy for everybody and I don't think fatherhood is promoted in Chester that it's OK to be a dad, it's OK to be affectionate, even if you don't think you are a good dad," she said.One of the Fathers Are Talking founders, Jonathan Whittington, agreed."Here's a young man raising his child all by himself," he said, pointing to fellow group founder, Shaheer Madeehah. "So what does that prove? That it can be done. It's about being a man ... This man could easily let his son go and do something ..."Is he getting the credit? Whittington asked. "The recognition? No. Let's recognize fathers for who they are and give them credit."Acknowledgement and support were among the main reasons the group was founded two years ago in April 2012.At that time, Steve Fischer, executive director of the Chester Housing Authority, was having a discussion with Butch Slaughter about the challenges facing lower income communities."We came to the realization that we both understood that it's not necessarily what you hear about most of the times — the guns and the drugs and the crime, but, in fact, the absence of fathers in the family," he said, "because if you fix that, then a lot of the other things would get fixed as a result."More parental supervision is going to cut down on kids going astray and looking to the street to do all the family network," Fischer added.So, the pair began to reach out to other men in the community and formed a group that has met twice a month since then."It's simply a concerned fathers' community coming together and wanting to provide a forum or a network where young fathers or fathers-to-be even can come and hear us talk about our experiences and mistakes that we made along the way," Fischer said.Emmerson Hughes Jr., another founding member, said one thing Fathers Are Talking hope to provide is a compassionate ear."We have to learn how to listen to our young men," he said. "Listening helps to solve problems because they built a lot of anger in them. They need somebody to sit down and love them."We need to listen to young men because a lot of them are hurting because something happened in their lives and they have no one to talk to, no one to listen," Hughes explained. "That's what we can do. We listen to (them), to let them know we're here for them."Besides the support, the group hosts Father's Day events such as last year's two-day film festival and this year's portrait session.Whittington said when the session was selected as this year's activity, he went home and looked at his pictures of his now-adult children."It brought back such memories, such beautiful things," he said. "You know, when your children are young and you're involved with them and then you look back, it's a warm feeling."Whittington was hopeful this gesture would be meaningful for the dads who participated."We're not trying to fix everything," he said.But, he added that the group wanted this and the bi-weekly meetings "to help young fathers find a path without always feeling that everybody's against them. This is one of the things that is hard to understand — you have to walk in a man's steps. We walked in those shoes before them. We're trying to give them some insight in how we are fathers."About the photo shoot, Fischer said, "We were discussing it and we thought it's a rather simple idea but it can have a long lasting effect because when people have a professionally done photograph in their home, it tends to last forever. And, years later, all the great memories come back."Some of those memories were happening Saturday at the Bennett center, especially when Phillip Hutchins appeared with his 11-member Flip Move basketball team in tow."Everybody squish in closer together," Ryan instructed as she adjusted the backdrop.Earlier, she talked about why she chose to help her longtime friend."It's a good cause and it's good just to be here with good people doing the right thing," Ryan said. "It just makes you feel good inside."Back at the session, the boys from the team laughed and smiled as they gathered around their coach for a snapshot.Perched atop a chair, camera in hand, Wilkinson directed, "Look up. Stop giggling. Now, everybody, give your coach a hug."After the team pose, Hutchins got a picture with his player and son, Mar'Quan Jones, 12."It means a whole lot to me," he said. "It means a whole lot to me because I have pictures since he was born."And, the team picture was special, too."It'll put my team out there that they know we are ready for competition," Hutchins said, smiling.Even the kids appreciated the chance to pose with their dads."It feels good and great, taking a picture with my dad and giving him a picture for Father's Day," Muharram Madeehah, 12, said about the photographed moment with his dad, Shaheer. "He's nice to me and he's a good dad."Hales, who was the first to get his photograph taken Saturday, knew exactly what he was going to do with his picture of him with his son."Get it blown up and put it on the wall," he said. "So, when the memories come back, I can say, 'Wow!'"Even as he left the community center, Hales couldn't stop looking at it as he repeated, "Sometimes, it brings tears to the eyes. It brings tears to the eyes."