As adults we watch and re-watch Star Trek episodes with analytical minds. We understand that the writing poses questions about race, sexuality and inequality. From Harry Mudd’s planet of androids to Data and the Borg, we are led to ponder where machine stops, and sentience begins. Episodes ask us to embrace courage, sacrifice and the need to shift our perceptions of right and wrong, just like Kirk was asked to consider that, maybe, just maybe, the Federation had made an incursion into Gorn territory.
But a child doesn’t see it like that. Star Trek is a visceral experience. Space is a place filled with adventure and some truly weird and gross stuff.
Let’s rewind about a decade. Toronto has suffered a series of rainy days. So, while my son, Tate, had been inside playing, I’d caught up with a few episodes over the week.
Fast forward to the end of the week. My wife came home from work in the early afternoon, and immediately asked my son and I what we'd been up to all morning.
"Ship," my son, barely two years old, said one single word.
Ship? What was "ship?" There were no ships on his play table. A few cars. Animal figures. But no boats, no rockets...
And, then, again, "ship."
It hit me. While I thought my son was paying full attention to his toys, he'd been paying more attention than I realized to Star Trek. "Ship" was the Enterprise.
My toddler was a fan.
“Kirrrrkkkk,” he soon mastered the name. And then he said a variation of the word Spock, except that he replaced the “Sp” with an “f” sound, which had both of his parents laughing. That took a couple of weeks to, ahem, cure.
So, what was the father of a junior fan to do? Sit down and re-watch pretty well every episode of Star Trek with Tate. The analytical viewer in me was gone, the thinker and uber-critic was replaced with that sense of wonder that burned in me when, during the late 1970s, I rushed home from school to watch syndicated Star Trek episodes. I wasn’t watching reruns; it was like every episode was new again.
And it was amazing to hear him tell me what he saw.
“Flying pizzas land on Spock. Spock falls down. Oh no!” (That’s “Operation: Annihilate!”) That definitely won the “cool, but gross” title, and I think it ranked as Tate’s No. 1 favoritest of the favoritest episode.
“Broken ship!” (The U.S.S. Constellation from “The Doomsday Machine”)
“Daddy, no-eyes man! NO-EYES MAN!” (Gary Mitchell, after he’s transformed in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”)
But, maybe the best thing, the greatest memory I have of Tate’s toddler years obsession with all things Star Trek, was when he’d sit next to his mother or me, and, instead of giving us a hug, he’d reach over, place three fingers on our faces and utter in his best monotone… “my mind to your mind.” Occasionally, to mix things up, he’d pause a second and then yell “THE PAIN” as his personal ode to “The Devil in the Dark.”
He didn’t understand that the episode set on a lonely mining planet was about the destruction of a native species’ habitats; he didn’t understand that Star Trek carried an environmental message that dated back almost five decades. What he understood was the Horta had an ouchie, and could only pass that message to the miners and the Enterprise crew through Spock.
There was also the screech of “MON-STER!!!” when, well, a monster made a cameo on the screen. In “The Galileo Seven,” you only ever catch a glimpse of the shaggy creature that’s picking off crewmembers and battering the shuttlecraft, but it was enough to make my son squeal. The mugato from “A Private Little War” was another surefire contender for Monster of the Series.
The Star Trek stuff came next. The action figures. The bearded Spock from “Mirror, Mirror” was a favorite. His mother knitted him Spock points to slide over his ears. There was a blue undershirt that was transformed into a Starfleet uniform. There was the model Enterprise, which lit up. He’d turn off the lights, so that it looked like the ship was whooshing from star to star. He discovered a box of old Fotonovels (remember those books that used stills from a specific episode, combined them with text bubbles, creating comic-book-like adaptations?) that were barely together with tape.
We moved away from Toronto to Western Canada. We were close to my wife’s family, and one of Tate’s aunts (his “yee-paw”) enjoyed making balloon art for Tate and his kid sister, Nico. Yee-paw fielded request after request for starship after starship. She could make dogs, rabbits and, yes, became pretty accomplished at tying balloons together to make saucer sections and nacelles. My son would run around the house, balloon Enterprise above his head, re-enacting “Balance of Terror” or “The Ultimate Computer.”
Years later, we took our family to The Star Trek Experience at TELUS Spark (the science centre in Calgary, a three-hour drive from our home in Edmonton). One of the exhibits was an interactive Kobayashi Maru experience. You were put in the captain’s chair, and had to decide if you’d try to shield the Kobayashi Maru from the Klingons, to drop the shields and try to beam over survivors, or to turn and fight a no-hope battle against the Birds of Prey. I watched Tate make the decision to lead his ship into battle. He lasted a bit longer than I thought he would. But, in the end, to quote Kirk, those “Klingon bastards killed my son.”
I assume the 12-year-old Tate might be a bit embarrassed that his dad is reminiscing about what was a special time. But, hey, dad’s response is simple: Son, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Steven Sandor (he/him) is the editor of Edify, Edmonton’s city and lifestyle magazine. He’s also the author of 10 books, the latest being Easy Out, a young-adult novel about a very bad baseball team in small-town Canada. He prefers his pizza on a plate, not clinging to his back and trying to control his mind. Find him @stevensandor