Jon Whittington, a resident at Ruth L. Bennett Homes, knows something about being a father. He has four grown children, 11 grandkids and two great grandchildren. Since helping to form FATHERS ARE TALKING two years ago, the Chester Housing Authority resident says one of the key messages group members have tried to convey is that if we did a better job as dads we would have a better city."
One problem many men in our community face is they think they're not supposed to show they have feelings," Whittington says. "The biggest thing we offer is a place where you can talk to other fathers and say what's on your mind. We have but one rule: leave your title at the door. We don't care whether you're a doctor, lawyer, sanitation worker or don't have a job – once you cross our doorstep your title is father."In an effort to attract more men to JOIN THE CONVERSATION, the group is offering to take a free portrait photo of dads with their children the day before Father's Day, Saturday, June 14 from 12:00 to 2:00 at the Ruth L. Bennett Homes Community Center. "It may be a small thing, but I know when you take a picture with your child it allows you years later when they are grown to remember when," Whittington said. "A lot of fathers are out there raising their children and not being recognized. We want to bring that to the forefront."Another of the original group members is Rod Powell of Edgemont Apartments. Like Whittington, he is an older dad trying to impart lessons to the younger men in the group, even as young as 15. "We have started to go into the schools and make our presence more known," he says. "We never try to force ourselves on folks. We want them to express themselves and then we can respond with ideas. We try to be more listeners. A lot of these teenagers are parents already." Powell says the older dads don't make value judgments. He says doing that would turn the younger men off. Instead he says they try to tell them about their experiences and if they can, give tips.There is no designated leader to the group discussions. The idea is to find ways to bring young men and fathers together to be open minded about ways to a better future."Our goal is to turn things around a bit, Whittington says. "If we can come away with a couple young men who change their minds and learn what an important responsibility being a father is we have accomplished our mission."The free photos are just a means to bring attention to what these men feel is one of the biggest issues facing Chester, the need for dads to be fathers to their children. "We are trying to get the community together - show them that people are really interested in them," Powell says. While they're there to get their family portrait taken we will let them know what we do and where our meetings are."