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A Lesson in Parenting From Dr. M’Benga

'He has to let it go. Even though it means he won’t be happy anymore.'

Dr. M'Benga stands against a purple and blue background.

As parents, we demonstrate love for our children in a number of different ways. We provide for them. We teach them right from wrong. We protect them from harm. That’s really just the beginning of it all. The Star Trek universe is full of memorable parents. Benjamin Sisko, Miles O’Brien, Beverly Crusher, and B’Elanna Torres are just a few of the names that come to mind. Sure, not all of Trek’s parents may necessarily be worthy of example; however, there certainly are more than a few folks out there who work hard to keep their children on the straight and narrow, while doting upon them with all of the love and attention they can possibly muster.

Not an easy task while seeking out new life and new civilizations, so I am told.

One such example of positive parenting within the final frontier comes in the form of Dr. M’Benga. Serving as the Chief Medical Officer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike, this skilled and forthright physician may indeed be the newest dad to grace the franchise, but it’s pretty clear that he knows a thing or two about looking after a little one. Especially when you look at his actions across three rather notable episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Let’s take a look at some lessons in parenting from Dr. M’Benga...

"Ghosts of Illyria"

Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) sits at his desk, looking thoughtful.

I’ll start things off with a look at the doctor’s actions in “Ghosts Of Illyria.” In this episode, we learn that he has an 11-year-old daughter named Rukiya. Sadly, she has been diagnosed with a rare and terminal disease known as cygnokemia for which there is no known cure. Now, being the Chief Medical Officer on the flagship of Starfleet, you’d think a man like M’Benga would be able to handle any illness that came his way. Yet this is simply not the case.

However, instead of losing hope, this loving father risks his own career within the ranks of Starfleet to place his little girl within the pattern buffer of the medical transporter on the Enterprise. While there, she is protected from the effects of the illness, which cannot progress while in stasis. Additionally, M’Benga is afforded some more time in his search for a cure, one that he is convinced they will find somewhere out there among the stars. His actions here would keep his little girl comfortable during what would no doubt be an otherwise painful prognosis, while at the same time reaffirming to Rukiya that the one person she loved most in the world was looking out for her and wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to her. It is not lost on me that this may very well be more an example of the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many, but I highly doubt that there isn’t a parent out there reading this essay right now who wouldn’t do the exact same thing.

As parents, we must show our children through word and action that we are there for them and will not allow anything bad to happen. Whether they cry out in the night from a bad dream, or need someone to comfort them when they are sick, it is important that our little ones are assured we will always watch over them. And that we are never too far away to help allay their fears.

Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) sits at a table in medbay. He studies the equipment in front of him.

"Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach"

Next up, let’s move over to the events of “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach.” It offers another glimpse into Dr. M’Benga’s superb parenting skills when it came down to pursuing a treatment for Rukiya’s illness.

The Starfleet physician encounters a Majalan doctor named Gamal, who also happens to be a ‘father’ himself to The First Servant. Gamal informs Dr. M’Benga that his little girl’s illness could very well be cured back on his home planet of Majalis where there is no sickness of any kind. However, M’Benga’s hopes are soon dashed to pieces when Gamal informs him that certain policies on his world prevent such information from being shared with outsiders, even with respect to medical intervention.

As events transpire revealing the cold-hearted truth behind his society, Gamal changes his mind and begins to help Dr. M’Benga develop a treatment for Rukiya’s condition — a glimmer of hope for this little family, and one that definitely had me smiling, at least for the moment. However, Dr. M’Benga learns that this concoction will not completely eradicate the illness. Despite this, the hopeful Enterprise physician believes this may very well be a first step in curing his daughter once and for all. The above really demonstrates the doctor’s loving commitment to his little one. Desperate to search out some sort of solution, M’Benga never wavers in his quest to locate a means to heal Rukiya, even if it be something as simple as a first step in the process.

Our children must likewise come to know that we will never waver in our commitment to help them through the trials and tribulations of life. It may not always be easy, and will oftentimes come at the expense of our time and energy, but it is certainly an important part in both the development of our children and their ability to trust us as the years progress. It will stand as proof that we are lovingly standing by to help them whenever and wherever they may need us.

Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) stands in sickbay, wearing a crown and robe.

"The Elysian Kingdom"

Finally, we come to “The Elysian Kingdom.” After the Enterprise ends up stuck in a nebula that serves as the home to a rather lonely alien consciousness, Dr. M’Benga finds himself in a fantasy world that mirrors one of Rukiya’s favorite fairy tales. It is here, among a crew that believes themselves to be wizards, guardsmen and knights, that he must eventually make a difficult decision regarding his daughter and confront the very real possibility of saying goodbye.

While what unfolds here ends up becoming one of the most emotionally charged scenes in the history of the franchise, M’Benga’s final choice to let Rukiya go and become part of the sentient nebula is perhaps his grandest expression of love toward his little girl. No parent wants to say goodbye, but in M’Benga’s case, he soon comes to realize that letting Rukiya go is the best choice for her, even if it may not be the one he wants to pick.

As we have seen across these three episodes, he toiled day and night in an effort to save his daughter from the effects of her disease. He never stopped, even putting his career and his fellow crew members second given the possibility of a breakthrough. Sadly, this was to no avail. Upon learning that Rukiya’s sickness would end upon her joining with the consciousness, there was no question as to what Dr. M’Benga should do next. While it may have been the choice that hurt him most, a decision he never hoped to make, this brave, loving and selfless father put his own desires to the side and did what was best for Rukiya, based on her wants and what he knew to be the best course of action.

Letting go is not easy. In fact, as parents, it is one of the things that we fear most of all in this world. The very thought of our children daring to venture outside of the carefully constructed sanctuary that is the family home to stake a claim on the outside can create feelings of anxiety that most parents are not prepared for. At the same time, letting go creates a degree of loss for parents that can include such things as communication, closeness and companionship.

Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) reads a book at his desk.

Add to this the fact that we have been there for them since the very beginning, feeding them, clothing them, putting a roof over their head, and there is no denying that it is much easier said than done to let your children go. Whether you feel the time is right or not.

However, the fact remains that, sooner or later, we will have to let them branch out on their own. It may not be what we want. It may not be something that we are ready for. Yet, by doing so, we are in fact acting in the best interests of our children. Allowing them to spread their wings and write their own story, as it were. No matter how very painful the end result might be for us as parents.

As I mentioned at the outset, the Star Trek universe is chalked full of memorable parents. However, if you ask this writer, none hold so much as a PADD to Dr. M’Benga. Like all parents out there, he’s far from perfect. But there is little denying that no one matters more to him than Rukiya. This is evidenced through his unwavering commitment to finding a cure, his constant affirmation of love, and his willingness to make decisions that are based upon what is best for her above all else.

Thanks for these powerful lessons in parenting, Dr. M’Benga! And also for hitting us right in the feels!