Star Trek, like the two earliest Enterprises (the USS and the NX-01), began with a narrow focus on an elite crew of scientists and military men. These ships were more similar to a modern military vessel, spartan and only consisting of active duty officers. Yet as time went on, as the United Federation of Planets and its exploratory arm, Starfleet, continued to develop, the Enterprise broadened into a concurrent scientific ship and family home – and with this evolution, required to deal with the complications and dramas so inherent to any family home.
One of the most complicated relationships throughout Star Trek, explored throughout centuries and across the galaxies, is that of the legacies of fathers and their children. From Sarek, struggling to understand the effects of Spock’s human emotions to Jake Sisko, searching to separate his identity from that of his father while isolated on a deep space Starfleet base. Yet amongst the multitude of Starfleet officers with children, there are some particularly notable Starfleet officers, at both extreme ends of parenting. Here we have not the best and worst Starfleet officers (indeed, one of the worst fathers on this list is arguably the best Starfleet officer of all time,) but a judgement as to their personal lives. Who are the best and worst fathers in Starfleet?
Worst: James T. Kirk
Probably the best example of the dashing, womanising, commitment-phobic Starfleet officer, Captain Kirk romanced many crew members and aliens during the USS Enterprise’s initial five year exploration mission. Yet, as audiences come to realise later in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk has been an absentee parent to his son, David. In defence of Kirk, he and David’s mother, Carol Marcus, had agreed that sharing custody might be difficult. The arrangement does bring questions as to how best to share custody when both parents are ranging through the galaxy on starships, but Kirk is so distant from his son that David is not even aware of his parentage until adulthood. In a 23rd century without capitalistic economics, it seems unlikely Kirk is even paying child support. Kirk and David were eventually able to come to an understanding and develop a meaningful relationship before David’s death, but it is disappointing that Kirk does not seem to feel particular qualms about missing the majority of David’s childhood.
The acceptance of Kirk’s absence from his son’s life is perhaps the best example of how the role of fathers have evolved since the 23rd century (and its portrayal in the 1980s.) Kirk’s devotion to his career is accepted as an acceptable reason for inactive parenting. Kirk is not judged for his absence from his son’s upbringing. Yet as expectations of Starfleet officers, and attitudes towards their work/life balance changed, Kirk’s attitudes toward parenting have begun to seem dated, replaced by more involved and active Starfleet fathers.
Best: Miles O’Brien
The culture clash which the Irish Miles O’Brien and his Japanese wife Keiko had to overcome early in their marriage clearly did not extend to their views on balancing family and career. Both successful professionals (O’Brien as first a transporter chief and later chief petty officer, one of the highest ranking non-commissioned officer on Deep Space Nine, and Keiko in her dual roles as a botanist and DS9 schoolteacher), the O’Briens are certainly involved parents. Raising daughter Molly and son Kirayoshi on a starship and later a deep space base has certain challenges – for example, having a child held hostage by aliens, a child falling through a time portal and a child who needed to be carried by a Bajoran surrogate are not the experiences of most Terran parents, but the O’Briens consistently try to maintain a supportive yet normal family structure. Molly is given chores to do around the family quarters and family time includes both picnics and instructions for playing darts.
The O’Brien family – with two successful parents attempting to balance family life and often stressful and traumatic careers – are perhaps one of the most relatable set of parents in Starfleet. O’Brien genuinely seems to enjoy the process of parenting, looking forward to time with his daughter after long absences and taking equal responsibility for caretaking his children. O’Brien is a modern 24th century father – enjoying his career, his adventures with friends on the holodeck, but also making sure to prioritise time and engagement with his children.
Best: Data and Jonathan Archer
Although both android scientist Lieutenant Data and human Captain Jonathan Archer are not fathers of a traditional nature, they aew both are incredibly loving dads to their respective pets - Data’s ginger cat, Spot, and Archer’s sweet beagle, Porthos. Spot is almost the definition of a finicky feline. She dismisses most of Data’s specially created cat food and arbitrarily has warmed to certain crew members - who knew Worf was a cat person? Yet Spot, the frequent subject of Data’s poetry, has repaid Data’s loyalty by once saving the Enterprise D (along with her newborn kittens, of course.) But perhaps the most touching scene between the two occurred when the Enterprise D was finally destroyed. Data was shocked to find Spot hidden away in a container and commented that his emotion chip must be malfunctioning – since he was delighted to see Spot, and yet he was crying. The extent of Spot’s devotion may remain a mystery, as, indeed, it is with any cat, but at least“An Ode to Spot” remains perhaps the best cat-based iambic pentameter in all of Terran literature.
Porthos’ devotion to Captain Archer is perhaps more tangible, as the beagle is incredibly devoted to cuddles for Archer, but Porthos has access to many opportunities at which few dogs would sniff. A connoisseur of cheddar cheese (though, unfortunately, it wreaks havoc with his digestive system), Porthos also loves to explore new planets during walks with his human. It may feel a bit like cheating to include a doggy daddy on the list of best fathers – after all, love from a dog is far easier to gain and maintain than that of Terrans, but the ease of the relationship between Archer and Porthos is one which many fathers would envy – especially the ability to sooth their child with a simple wedge of cheese.