Sesame Street's Kevin Clash, the Man Behind Elmo
If you have any kids, odds are you're down with Sesame Street and one of its most popular residents: Elmo. Well, Kevin Clash, the brains behind the furry red monster's voice and movements since 1984, is a true NYC Dad success story. Despite the fact that his career keeps him based in Manhattan while his daughter lives with his ex wife outside of Baltimore, Kevin has always gone the extra mile to play an active and present role in his child's life. He spoke to NYC DADS about his experiences.
Have you found it hard to find time to spend with Shannon as she's grown up?
That's the thing. With the occupation I have and Sesame Street and Elmo being so successful, my job takes me all over the world. The challenge was to make sure that I had quality time—and enough time—to spend with Shannon. We try to work it out the best we can. Now that she's older and she can travel a bit more, it's better.
Any tricks that you had to get the most out of the time you shared with her?
I just came up with really fun ways of connecting with her. One thing we did was a book that she and I wrote and drew together called A Day in the Life of Shannon. I sat with her and said, "What do you do when you get up in the morning? Okay, let's draw it." So it was trying to find fun ways of not only doing activities, but also connecting. By making the book, I got to find out what she does and what she likes to do.
What were some other favorite activities you did together?
A lot of the stuff we did was really using our hands and making things. One time she wanted to make a puppet, so we sat down and I said, "What type of puppet do you want?" She wanted a mouse, so she drew the mouse and we went to the material store and got the fabrics and stuff. We went from step to step to step, to the point where she had a little mouse puppet. Genia, her mom, was the one who normally sat down and read stuff to her. I was the crafty one. Normally, when I'd go home, Genia would assign me to go to the grocery store and I'd take Shannon. They had these wonderful little activity kits, and we'd get one of those each weekend and we'd make it. One of them was for Father's Day, actually. You got a tie and got to decorate it with paints. Not only did I get a gift, but I got to create it for myself too! It was really cute.
Any other favorite Father's Day gifts you can remember?
Definitely drawings and paintings. Shannon's a very good artist. She blows me away with her artwork. I have a lot of it framed. I might be biased, but I just think she's very, very talented, and that stuff is always something that I love to get from her.
What do you two enjoy doing together now that she's a little older?
Going to the mall, going to the movies. I love shopping for clothes with her. It's really cool. There's a lot more variety of places to go in New York, of course, so she'll come up here, and we'll hit the stores. Actually Shannon and I do that much better than Genia and Shannon. They have different tastes, but when we bring clothes back and Shannon shows them to her mom, she loves the stuff. It's just that they don't get things done as well as Shannon and I do with shopping.
Any other things you like to do when she's in New York?
We definitely love to go to Central Park and run around. And sometimes if there's something on Broadway, like The Lion King or something that's appropriate for her, we'll go. She loves doing that. And I'm a foodie, so I take her to different, fun restaurants.
Why was spending time with your daughter always so important to you as a dad?
You have a responsibility bringing a child into the world to make sure that you have time with them, not only for them to learn from you, but for you to learn from them. It's a win-win situation. And you want to have as much time as you can experiencing and enjoying their presence before they get old enough to not have time for you! [laughs] With Shannon now being 15, I have to really call her way in advance to see if she has time to see me at this point. She has a life now. I'm on my way down to Baltimore and I have an awards banquet tonight, so I was hoping to see her over the weekend. And she's, like, "Well, you should've called earlier."
What makes you proud to be Shannon's father?
I love how she communicates. If there's something she really doesn't want to talk to you face-to-face about, she'll get on the computer and she'll e-mail it. As a matter of fact, we had a little bit of a hard time because I was so busy that I couldn't get down there as much as I really wanted to. She wrote an e-mail that she never sent to me, but she talked to her mom about it. And her mom said, no, you definitely must send that to your dad. So she sent it and said, listen dad, it's about three more years that I'll be out of the house and doing my thing, and I want to be able to spend time with you, but you're so busy now and I don't want you to miss quality time with us. She didn't want to talk to me face-to-face about it, but she made it very clear how she felt.
How about you and your own dad? Were you close?
Yeah. He's still alive, so we're still very close. My father was the handyman of the neighborhood. We'd go and build sheds for neighbors and stuff like that. And my father loves fishing. Nine times out of ten, we never caught anything, but we loved it.
What's some of the best parenting advice that you got from your father?
My dad listened very, very well. And his advice was not just done by communicating or by saying it to you, but he put it out there by example. He was really clever in his ways of getting his point across of "don't do this again." My mom and dad brought us up that way. It wasn't trying to sugarcoat or anything, it was being very direct and frank about how things worked and how they wanted us to grow up and learn from them.
What's the best piece of advice that you could give young NYC Dads out there?
That it's really, really important to be involved with your children's lives. Each year, it gets harder and harder and more of a challenge to make ends meet and to make money, you know, because of the economy and all that stuff. But you can't let that get in the way of your connection to your child and what you need to be doing for your child. Because you can only benefit from it yourself. I mean, these characters are unbelievable! They're amazing, and you learn a lot. It gets you back down to the basics of living, because that's the way they live.
What's the most important thing that Shannon has taught you?
Don't let your career and your work get in the way of this wonderful life that you have with your child. Yes, work is important, but you've got to balance it out and keep a perspective on what you're supposed to be doing at home. She brought that to my attention. [laughs] She was, I think, 13 or 14 at the time.
Any last messages for our NYC DADS?
I just feel that having a child is a wonderful, wonderful miracle. It's so special to be blessed that way. You should cherish it every day.