So, this past summer my roommate Matthew and I began watching every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after which we were going to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, both of which I have the entire collection on DVD. Although he only lasted through the third season of TNG (after which he got out of the apartment and got engaged), I’ve still been going with it off and on, skipping only any episode involving Lwaxana Troi and a large amount of the DS9 Ferengi episodes. Today I started the fourth season of DS9 and ended up watching one of my favorite episodes of all-time, not just DS9 or Star Trek but anything: “The Visitor.” I won’t bother with a synopsis here; if you want to read one, follow the link I just provided. However, it is, I believe, the most emotionally moving piece of work that has ever come out of the Star Trek franchise, beating even wonderful episodes such as “The Inner Light,” as well as one of the few pieces of film or TV that I actually tear up at.
You see, I’m not a big crier. When Bambi’s mom was shot I didn’t bat an eye. It is a rare romantic moment that even wets my tear ducts. I can sit through an entire, spiritually enlightening testimony meeting or something similar, and not shed a single tear. I have some theories as to why that is. Part of me believes that it’s because I’ve been hiding my emotions for so long. When I was a kid, showing my emotions invited ridicule, for the most part. As life progressed and the whole situation with my father developed, I couldn’t show how I felt about it because we didn’t want outsiders to take pity on us; we wanted to be normal. At least that’s what my mom wished, and I tried to follow suit. There may be other reasons as well, but suffice it to say, me crying is a very rare event.
Yet every time I see this little episode of Deep Space Nine, I end up crying. Not enough to need a tissue or anything, but enough. And this time I was pondering why. I think I have at least part of the answer. Experience. I have never really experienced romantic love, ever. I’ve had various sporadic bouts of infatuation with some girls, but I’ve never had a deep relationship. Whenever I see or read a romantic story, I don’t have anything to compare it to, not personally anyway. Somehow the concept has always eluded me. Therefore I’m never touched. The guy gets the girl; great, so what?
This story is also about love. But it’s not about romance. It’s about a man and his son. In today’s society, marriages are made and ended as easily as friendships, or business deals. But once a man has a son, he has a son. A man’s father is his father, no matter what. That can’t be changed, that can’t be broken. As Ben Sisko once said himself, referring both to a rocky relationship he was having at the time and his bond with his son Jake:
“This is important. You and I. Things change. . .but not this.”
Maybe it’s touching because I know what familial love is. Maybe it’s touching because the one thing I want to be more than anything in the world–more than a musician, more than a financial success, maybe even more than a boyfriend or husband, is a father. Maybe it resounds because I never really got to know my own father. Sure, he was a big part of my life for the first nineteen years or so. But when you’re a child you don’t get to know your father as a person. When I was in my teens he was already quite sick and rarely coherent. However, there was one moment in our past, one brief instant in time, that let me know, at least a bit, what I had missed over the years.
About two months before I left on my mission I went on a road trip with my dad and my brother to Las Vegas, to go visit Star Trek: The Experience. It was the last road trip I ever took with him and the only one I ever took with him when I was an adult. It was also the last time I had extensive contact with him, for he died while I was on my mission. This was a slightly brighter spot in his life, for he had been going through rehab, both physical and spiritual, and while he was nowhere near healthy on either front, he was, at least, putting up a good fight. We talked a good amount of the time there and back, and I don’t think I’d ever had a conversation with my father on a person-to-person level (as opposed to an authority figure or such level) until that trip, and I found out a lot of things about him I never knew before: about his past, his time in the military, his experiences in college, and even a bit about his then-current struggles. After the trip ended I only rarely saw him until I left, and then, of course, I never saw him again after the day I entered the MTC, on the end of the row here.
That trip, however, always made me wonder what kind of person he really was. Behind the gayness and AIDS and neuropathy, behind all the anger and secrets and lies–who was he? Who was the man that my mother married? According to both my mother and my oldest sister, my father was a very different person before about 1983: more kind, caring, and eager to do things with his family. Then events both in and out of his control twisted a lot of him around, leaving a different person to be the father I remember. In a sense, I lost my loving father just like Jake Sisko did in “The Visitor.” The biggest difference was, I didn’t even realize it until it was too late to do anything about it.
When my dad died a lot of people came out of the woodwork. People on the UTA Disabled board, people involved in genealogical work (which was his greatest passion), and people who knew him from his mission and college days. Some of them posted things on his obituary site, while others on the Deseret News on-line obituary board that has probably been taken down by now. Most of these people described a man I never knew, but wished to know. A man I would have been proud to call my father. And in many ways, despite all that happened, I still am proud to be his son. My mother may now have a different husband, but Steven Parkes will always be my father, and I will always be his son, no matter what happens.
Which brings me back to “The Visitor.” The entire show centers around Jake losing his loving father, something which has happened to me, both literally and figuratively. In fact, in the same way Jake kept getting tantalizing glimpses of his father over the years, every so often I’d get a glimpse of an honorable man behind the angry invalid. In the same way Jake and his father had a link through baseball, my father and I had a link through Star Trek. During junior high and high school, about the only positive memories I have of my father were at 10:00 every night, Channel 13 rebroadcast old TNG episodes, and I would watch them in his bedroom. He’d normally just lie there like a vegetable or use his beeper to get us to do some little task for him like moving his legs or emptying his, um, bag, but during that hour we’d chat about various things, mostly relating to the episode they were showing that night. I hope it meant as much to him as it did to me, but I won’t be able to ask him in this life. In the end Jake gets his father back by taking his own life, sending Ben Sisko back in time. I don’t get that option, but I can appreciate the effect that had on both Siskos. And I can make the determination, that no matter the cost, no matter the hardships or trials, I will be there for my kids. I will let them know what kind of person I am. And I will be the kind of person that they will be proud to call their father. That much I pledge.
To end, here are some quotes from the episode:
“You are my favorite author of all time.”
“You should read more.”
- – Melanie and the adult Jake Sisko
“It begins, many years ago. I was eighteen. And the worst thing that could happen to a young man happened to me. My father died.”
- – the adult Jake Sisko
“I’m no writer; but if I were, it seems to me I’d want to poke my head up every once in a while and take a look around; see what’s going on. It’s life, Jake! You can miss it if you don’t open your eyes.”
- – Benjamin Sisko
“I’m not sure I could ever get over losing somebody like that; right in front of my eyes.”
“People do. Time passes, and they realize that the person they lost is really gone… And they heal”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“No… I suppose not.”
- – Melanie and adult Jake Sisko
“Benjamin Sisko was more than my commanding officer; he was the emissary to my people sent by the prophets. But most importantly, he was my friend.”
- – Kira Nerys, at the memorial for Benjamin Sisko
“I didn’t step forward. I couldn’t. I felt that no matter what I said about him, I’d be leaving so much more out; and that didn’t seem right.”
- – Adult Jake Sisko, to Melanie
“After a few months, things began returning to normal… for everybody else that is.”
- – Adult Jake Sisko, to Melanie
“Please don’t make me leave; not yet. This is my home. When my dad and I came here, this place was just an abandoned shell. He turned it into something. Everywhere I look, it’s like I see a part of him. If I leave, I won’t have anything left of him.
- – Jake Sisko, responding to Kira’s request that he leave the station
“Quark finally got that little moon he was always talking about, and my father, as usual, is making sure it doesn’t fall out of orbit.”
- – Nog, to Jake as adults
“And don’t think because I’m not around much, that I don’t want grandchildren.”
- – Benjamin Sisko, to Jake just before disappearing
“Let go, Jake. If not for yourself, then for me. You still have time to make a better life for yourself. Promise me you’ll do that… Promise me!”
- – Benjamin Sisko, imploring Jake to let him go
“To my father, who’s coming home.”
- – Benjamin Sisko, reading the dedication in Jake’s last book
“For you, and for the boy that I was. He needs you more than you know. Don’t you see? We’re going to get a second… chance.”
- – Jake Sisko, explaining himself to his father with his last words