Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fatherhood in Star Trek

It’s June, and Father’s Day quickly approaches. Ever since I can remember being an adult, I had wanted to be a father. The best example I had growing up was my own father, who while not perfect, was perfect for me. As a child, I also watched a lot of television, and as I look back, I realized that there were not a whole lot of great father examples on TV. Sure there was Cliff Huxable on the Cosby Show, but recent allegations and revelations have tarnished that memory. TV dads were often buffoons, numbskulls, lazy, or neglectful. Those that were dutiful towards their family were often nerdy or awkward. The good TV fathers were few and far between. For every Charles Ingals there were at least a half dozen Al Bundys and Homer Simpsons. I hoped to find the good role models on the TV set.

Star Trek, of course, is my go to show (hence the blog). Again, it was difficult at times to see fathers. On the original series, we see the strained relationship between Spock and his father Sarek. In the Next Generation, we see glimpses of devoted fathers on the Enterprise, but usually as background characters. TNG established that families would be exploring the final frontier together, but the main male characters were mostly childless. Worf had his son, Alexander, but was unaware of his existence until K’Ehleyr sprung him on us. While Worf did his best as a single parent, Alexander was not a central part of the show. Data had an episode where he became a father, and as touching as the episode was, it was only one. We met some of the crews’ fathers, but again there were flaws. Worf’s adoptive father was a bit overwhelming, Data’s was doting but tragically dies, Wesley’s was only seen in a vision (also being deceased), and Riker’s relationship with his dear old dad was strained at best. Even later shows were low on father figures. Voyager had Tom Paris as both a father and a son. His relationship with his father was challenging, and he was only a father for a few moments on the last episode (unless the count the time that he and Janeway became lizards, but let’s just forget that one). Enterprise, as far as I could tell, had no fathers.

Deep Space Nine included the greatest variety of fathers, and it was this show that allowed me to see fatherhood on many levels. Yes, there were some stereotypes. Rom was a bumbling but well-intentioned father to Nog. Dukat was the complicated father who did not always know how to treat his half-Bajoran, hald-Cardassian daughter, but ultimately loved her. Bashir’s father was willing to do anything for his son Jules, ranging from the illegal to the accountable. Kira was haunted by her past with her father, while Odo had a tense relationship by the closest person he had to a father. We even had the more traditional working father in a stable relationship with Miles O’Brien. I loved the scenes with him and his family, from rushing home for dinner to bringing his baby to work, it was nice to see a regular, everyday dad. O’Brien reminded me more of my father in this regards than any other Trek dad.

Of course, there is Captain Benjamin Sisko. While many people celebrated the fact that he was the first lead in a Trek series that was a person of color, I thought it was more exciting that he was the first captain to be an involved father. His relationship with his son, Jake, was one of the best facets to his character. It was no surprise that the relationship between the actors that played Ben and Jake was as close as father and son could be, because their chemistry as characters was true and realistic. This is not to say that their relationship was perfect, but it was very typical of many father-son relationships. They did a lot of things together, like camping, fishing, and solar sailing. They shared common interests in baseball and cooking. Both had to grow as time progressed. Jake made decisions that Ben didn’t like, starting with not going into Starfleet. Ben had to learn to let Jake make those decisions. When Jake decides to remain on the station when the Dominion take it over, Ben is furious but admits that Jake is a man who is capable of making his own decisions. Jake had difficulties with his father being a Bajoran holy figure, mostly because he was worried that he would lose his father after having lost his mother at a young age. The tables were turned in the episode “The Reckoning” when it was Jake that was at risk of dying due to the Bajoran religion.  

Underlining this relationship was the sad fact that Ben was raising his son alone. Being a single working parent is difficult, let alone when the parent is not only a commander of a space station but a religious icon to an alien species. In spite of this the Siskos were close. Their shared loss of wife and mother bound them together. This can be best seen in the episode “The Visitor” where Jake proves the extent he is willing to go to save his father, not just for Ben’s sake but for Jake as well. This episode allows us to glimpse into the future, and it is delightful to see Ben pressuring his now adult son about giving him grandchildren. We continually see how important the relationship between these two is, to the point where Jake is willing to sacrifice his own life to restore what the relationship that once was. Jake did this not just to save his father, but to give his younger self the chance to continue growing up with his father.

Throughout the seven seasons of Deep Space Nine, Ben and Jake represented what many may consider to be an idealistic, or perhaps realistic, father-son relationship. They share frustrations with each other, involve themselves in each other’s lives, and become one of the best relationships on the show. It wasn’t overbearing, but it was present. So, with this Father’s Day approaching, I give a tip of the hat to Ben Sisko, one of television’s greatest, and definitely underappreciated, fathers.

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