Parenting and Star Trek
Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our first child, a baby girl who we’ve named Kira. Since we announced we were expecting a baby, I’ve gotten advice, both unsolicited and solicited, from everyone under the sun: friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, the oil delivery guy, the Dunkin Donuts employee who I should probably just claim as a dependent on my taxes by now, and even the able-bodied FedEx worker who had to visit our house almost every day to deliver bulky baby shower items.
All this advice is surely welcome. What do I know about being a parent? But as I ruminate on the meaning of parenthood and my role in Kira’s life, I’m thinking a lot, not of the advice of people in my life who have gone through this before, but the people from the Final Frontier who have inadvertently taught me parenting lessons. I’m thinking of the myriad of Star Trek characters who have shown me what to do, what not to do, and how I should act, think, and feel about welcoming a child into this world. And as you might have already guessed, some of these characters are even going to provide excellent role models for my daughter when she is old enough. And for all this, I am grateful.
Let me explain.
Fostering a healthy father-child relationship, even at the crossroads of the galaxy
While I won’t pretend my day job is even close to being as important as Captain Benjamin Sisko’s job as leader of Deep Space Nine, The Sisko does illustrate a remarkable quality of being a parent: how to foster a healthy relationship. To the credit of DS9‘s writers and Avery Brook‘s and Cirroc Lofton‘s acting, Sisko is one hell of a parent, a task made all the more demanding because he was a widowed husband. Thanks to my recent parenthood, I’m now thinking of DS9 through a remarkable new lens: the story of parenting done right.
There are a few episodes that heartfully spotlight the relationship between Ben and Jake, but one episode sticks out to me: “Explorer,” the one where Ben builds a replica of an ancient Bajoran solar sailor to help prove that Bajorans could have traveled from Bajor to Cardassia without warp speed. Jake joins his father on the journey, and they are able to spend some quality time together. Along the way, Jake, the budding writer, builds up the courage to solicit his father’s reaction to a story he has written. While Ben does have his critiques about the story, including what he perceives as Jake’s inexperience on the subject matter, he still encourages his son to pursue his passion, and they have an open and honest conversation about Jake’s goals in life. As they ride the solar sail, the conversations aren’t just about Jake, as the younger Sisko presses his dad to take updating again.
Taken together, this episode shows what a healthy, sincere, and honest relationship between father and child is like. Wouldn’t it be great to try to foster that kind of relationship with my daughter? Ben was able to be a good dad by recognizing his son’s place in a turbulent galaxy, respecting his growth as his own person, and allowing his son a certain degree of freedom while not being afraid to assert his own wisdom and discipline. That sounds like a recipe for success if I’ve ever heard it.
While Ben Sisko may get all the attention when it comes to parenting, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another person from Deep Space Nine who also offers a great, perhaps overlooked example of parenting done right: Miles O’Brien. The transporter chief galivants around the Beta and Gamma Quadrants like everybody else, but he always looks forward to returning to his wife and young daughter. Raising a family on a former Cardassian space station is surely no easy task, but Miles checks all the boxes when it comes to being a good dad: willing to help out, taking responsibility for parenting, and knowing when to not go to the holodeck with Julian when he has duties at home. I hope I can manage that balance as well as he can, even if that means telling my friends I won’t be able to hit up Call of Duty on some nights.
On the flip side…
Considering the idealistic nature of Star Trek, there aren’t very many examples of parenting gone awry, but there are at least a couple that standout in my mind.
Worf, as much as we love the character, is no model parent. His son, Alexander, had to deal with his father’s obstinate views on what it meant to be a Klingon. Worf originally had trouble even recognizing Alexander as his son because it would taint his idea of Klingon honor, an act that, to put it kindly, wouldn’t win Worf a “World’s Best Father” mug. When Alexander didn’t share his father’s passion for Klingon culture, Worf sent him to live with his grandparents, instead of recognizing that children can develop different interests than their parents – indeed, doing so is a sign of healthy development.
This wasn’t the last time Worf had a problem with who Alexander was becoming as the younger Klingon matured. In “Firstborn,” Worf was disgusted at the idea that Alexander didn’t want to become a Klingon warrior, and it was only through some time travel tomfoolery that Worf finally accepted Alexander’s wishes. The long-standing tension between father and son did not serve Alexander well later in life, and when he was serving on a Klingon ship during the Dominion War, he understandably revealed that he was emotionally damaged by feeling like an unwanted son.
To Worf’s credit, there were some things he did as a dad that earns him points. He participated in activities with his son, such as fun and games in the holodeck (before it turned into a life-or-death adventure in the Wild West). He did have some heart-to-heart moments about the complicated and unusual relationship between him and his son. But do those things outweigh the damaging impact of Worf’s unrelenting view on Klingon masculinity and normalcy? I don’t think so.
Worf isn’t the only example of parenting gone awry that sticks in my mind. Tom Paris on Star Trek: Voyager didn’t often speak of his father, Admiral Owen Paris, but when he did it was not in a flattering light. Owen was tough to a fault, always critical of his son and it’s clear he tried too much to control Tom’s path in life. Owen could be a stick in the mud, as his opinions rarely changed once he made his decision. Inflexibility, surely, is not a good trait to have as a parent. Tom also claimed his father thought crying was a weakness, a damaging and stereotypical male troupe that, in my opinion, is lucky, if not slowly, nudging itself farther from mainstream views.
All of this certainly had an effect on Tom, and while his character generally was a decent, upstanding human, some of his character flaws could certainly be attributed in part to his father. The lesson I’m taking away from Owen is that while you can serve as a superior officer to your crew, don’t be an officer to your child.
Finding a role model in the 24th century
Whether she wants to or not, my Kira is going to be exposed to Star Trek as she grows up. It’s just a simple fact in my household. And luckily, any one of Star Trek’s incarnations offers a multitude of excellent role models.
I was the one who pitched the name Kira to my wife for our daughter, and while I won’t put my hand on a Bible and say my daughter isn’t explicitly named after Kira Nerys from Deep Space Nine, let’s just say it’s an… *ahem* interesting coincidence.
Kira, simply, is a great role model, and she embodies so many qualities I hope my daughter develops. She is tough, an able leader, self-resilient, never the damsel in distress, and as loyal and responsible as they come. Her time under Cardassian occupation formed her into a woman who was able to respect how life throws curveballs at you, and how you just have to deal with them.
Life can be complicated, far from the black-and-white nature some people subscribe to. Kira found this out all too well over the course of her life, such as when she traveled back in time in “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” to see if it was true that her mother was Gul Dukat’s consort. Despite her rage, Kira didn’t change a thing and learned to live with that particular revelation. After the Occupation and at a crossroads in her life, Kira needed to transition herself from being a grueling fighter to a station administrator, a transition she accomplished in time, albeit perhaps without grace. The lesson Kira provides is a vital one: be adaptable, both in your perspective of the world and with your abilities.
While my daughter will have plenty of female role models to look up to, you can be sure Deep Space Nine will be as standard in my house as any of the Disney classics. For this, I thank Nana Visitor and the writers who brought such a strong female role to life. And if my daughter inhabits a bit of the fiery nature Kira was known for, that’s perhaps not a bad thing either. (Famous last words, right?)
There are plenty of other role models Star Trek can possess for a child in their formative years. For me, Spock’s ability to logically interpret a problem and quickly find a solution was foundational to my ability to solve problems. The way various Star Trek crews collaborate and respect one another as they solve seemingly insurmountable problems is a major influencer in my professional life. Jean-Luc Picard’s measured reasoning and authoritative grasp of challenges are inspiring for anybody who wishes to appear cool, calm and collected in the face of adversity. Deanna Troi’s ability to listen to people and practice the often-lacking skillset of Emotional Intelligence is something the world could always use more of. The list goes on and on…
Taken together, it’s clear an ardent Star Trek fan is exposed to any number of positive and negative parental behaviors and the impact those behaviors have on a child. And while keeping this all in mind is important as I set off on my own journey of being a parent, I think there is another piece of advice out of the Star Trek world that means more than everything I’ve explained already.
Time is a companion
Star Trek: Generations had a formative effect on me growing up. Seeing Captain Kirk, the Captain Kirk, die in a crumpled mess under a bridge in the middle of the desert was something that impacted me greatly. It was a major introduction for me about the fragility of life and the fact that even the most heroic of us will fade away.
While Kirk’s death is one of my strongest takeaways from that movie, I realize now that Picard’s ruminations on the nature of time are now one of the most influential moments from the entire franchise for me. Indeed, it permeates my thinking as I look upon my newborn daughter. Whereas the villain in Generations, Soran, thought of time as a predator that stalks you, waiting to strike, that is certainly not the ideal viewpoint to have while you raise your child. It certainly wouldn’t be healthy to view your life as a grandfather clock, just waiting for the bell to strike. So, I’ll try to carry Picard’s words in my mind as I watch my daughter grow up while I grow old:
“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives, but I’d rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment… because they’ll never come again.“
Jean-Luc Picard, to Riker in Star Trek: Generations.
Time is a gift granted to us by whatever physical or metaphysical properties designed the universe; it’s a gift you might be cognizant of in your pre-parent years, but I think I’ve just started to unwrap when I witnessed my daughter’s birth, the gift of life in its earliest form. To be sure, these two gifts go hand-in-hand. Children serve as continuations of our species, a way for the human condition to endure no matter what changes in our world. Time is our friend, and it will allow my daughter to grow into her own person overtime; it’ll allow her to learn, experience new things, explore emotions, and find her own special place in the current of time. As she wades through that current, I hope she realizes there is no predator stalking her, as Soran would have us believe, but rather she allows the current to guide her to whatever destinations await her.
If you’ve made it to the end of this op-ed, thanks! I hope my reflections on parenthood and Star Trek is something you can mull over, too. As a kid watching Star Trek, I was in love with the awesome space battles and beautiful starships. In my teenage years, I started to appreciate the complex ethical and moral dilemmas the show presented our heroes. Now as a 27-year-old father, I’m sitting here in a sort of awe-struck contemplation, realizing that Young Kyle never predicted that this franchise would help lay the groundwork for my ideas of fatherhood. But that is the gift of Star Trek, isn’t it? Its setting may be some wonderous, far-off futuristic paradise, but the lessons it teaches us to transcend space and time. I hope my daughter finds that out in due time, too.
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