Ben Elkin and his son Stash
Ben Elkin and his son Stash Ben Elkin
All week, Tell Me More has been honoring conventional and unconventional fathers, whose big day is this Sunday. Some of our guests and contributors have been submitting essays that reflect the joys and challenges of being a dad.
Today's guest: Ben Elkin, an alternative energy developer, law school student and single dad caring for his 7-year-old son, Stash.
Everyone tells me what a great dad I am. I appreciate it. I really do. And I say, with all humility, they're right. One of the things that makes me a great dad is that my favorite thing to do in this world is be my son's father.
Stash and I laugh and play and joke around. We make silly faces, childish games and inappropriate noises. But we also say "please" and "thank you," and clear the dinner table, make the bed, do our homework and talk about what it is to live righteously.
I sometimes think about the Will Smith movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" – the scene when he and his boy are spending their first night homeless in the train station, but instead of it being a trauma, it's an adventure. That is so only because the father chooses to lead and the son chooses to follow – the catch 22 of parenting.
By setting clearly established and fair boundaries ... upholding them lovingly and consistently, rewarding good behavior while calmly but sternly correcting bad ... you create a playground for them to become themselves and gleefully play in it. Kids are just as smart as adults — they just don't know what adults know. But they do know when they feel safe and loved; and when they do, their lives are better and so is yours.
Due to some difficult circumstances, which it seems so many of us are facing these days, I have spent the last three years being Stash's primary caretaker — while I work and go to law school...without any family support. People ask me all the time, "How do you do it all?" Honestly, I have no idea.
Though parenting skills are very important, when kids are born, they are who they are and you can only guide them into being themselves. I am only able to be the dad I am and make our lives work because of the person he is. And that is the greatest blessing in my life.
I recently asked Stash what he liked most about being my son. He said he loves that I play with him and joke with him. I told him the reason I do is that it's my favorite thing to do in the world. He said, "I know, daddy." It melted my heart.