“Come on, Nog! Tell me,” booms Commander Benjamin Sisko, grasping the arms of the young Ferengi standing before him. Throughout the episode “Heart of Stone,” Sisko has refused Nog’s request for a letter of recommendation to Starfleet Academy. When it’s clear that Nog won’t give up, Sisko forces the issue, demanding to know why a Ferengi would want to serve. With his powerful voice echoing through the chamber, Sisko asks, “Why is it so damned important that you get into Starfleet?”

After sputtering for a moment, Nog finally spits out the answer— “Because I don’t want to end up like my father,” he shouts.

It’s not hard to understand Nog’s complaint. In the earliest seasons of Deep Space Nine, his father Rom was no more than Quark’s bumbling brother, who couldn’t embody Ferengi values. When the Grand Nagus chided him for sending Nog to a human school, Rom immediately relented, giving no thought to his son’s wishes. When Rom tried to be a good Ferengi and plot against his brother, Quark easily discovered the culprit and exposed him as a fool. Even earlier in the episode, Nog watched his father take the brunt of his brother’s anger when Rom could not meet Quark’s impossible expectations. 

Rom and Nog attempt to fix some machinery in Quark's bar on Deep Space 9.
"Heart of Stone"

To add further insult, Nog makes his confession to Sisko, perhaps the greatest dad in television history. From the series premiere onward, Sisko showed himself to be a loving and supportive father, always ready with an encouraging word and affectionate kiss for his son Jake. For every poor mistake made by Rom, Sisko made two perfect fatherly decisions.

Like many other dads who love Star Trek, I work hard to show my own children the same admiration and support Sisko gives Jake. But if I’m being honest, I usually don’t feel like I’m Sisko. Most of the time, I feel more like Rom, a constant embarrassment to his kids. I can easily imagine one of my children dedicating their lives to being unlike me.

And yet, there's something hopeful in being a dad like Rom — not for the reasons one would think — as seen in the pseudo-happy ending given to Rom at the end of "Heart of Stone." The episode closes with Quark telling Nog that he cannot join Starfleet, which forces Rom to pipe up. “When it comes to the bar, you may be in charge,” Rom declares; “but when it comes to my son, I make the decisions.” After Rom demonstrates his pride in Nog, the two grasp hands as the closing theme begins the play, and Nog remarks, “Like father, like son.”

The episode seems to give Rom a win, showing him make the right decision for once. But that ending doesn’t fully take into account how Rom inspired his son. When Nog explains his Starfleet plans to Sisko, he doesn’t actually mention the things you would expect, any sort of disgust at his father’s constant fumbling. Instead, he calls Rom “a mechanical genius,” someone who “could have been chief engineer of a starship if he had the opportunity.” Pride beams from Nog’s face as he says these words, knowing that he’s finally talking to someone who appreciates Rom’s abilities.  

Nog and Rom smile at each other as they shake hands.
"Heart of Stone"

As this confession indicates, Nog doesn't want to avoid being like his father. Rather, he recognizes their similarities and accepts them. "He's been chasing profit his whole life, and what has it gotten him," Nog asks before responding with, “Nothing.” Nog says this not to distance himself from Rom, but to make a connection. “He doesn’t have lobes,” Nog says, before dropping his head, “and neither do I.” 

For a bumbling buffoon of a father like me, there’s hope in what Nog sees. Rom’s failures don’t go unnoticed, nor do they drive his son away. Instead, Rom’s shortcomings help Nog relate to his father and understand what he could be. Thanks to Rom’s failures, Nog realizes that he doesn’t want to toil in the traditional Ferengi life as he takes the first steps toward joining Starfleet.

By the end of Deep Space Nine, Nog will not only join Starfleet, but he will serve with distinction during the Dominion War and earn a promotion to lieutenant junior grade. Other materials tell us that Nog becomes the first Ferengi captain in Starfleet, whose career is so great, that a 32nd Century starship will be christened the U.S.S. Nog.

Rom, after being appointed Grand Nagus, is embraced by Leeta. Nog stands at his side.
"The Dogs of War"

But apropos of his honesty with his son, Rom is not content to simply be an example for Nog. Instead, he takes a lesson from Nog and pursues his own dreams. Over the course of the series, Rom starts a service workers’ union, marries Leeta, and even earns recognition for his mechanical skills by joining Starfleet himself. Rom becomes the next Grand Nagus, instituting a progressive agenda that helps Ferenginar evolve. 

If Rom allowed himself to be intimidated by this fact or tried to hide his shortcomings, neither he nor Nog would have their successes. Instead of measuring himself against a near-perfect father like Ben Sisko, Rom was honest with his son, and was brave enough to let Nog see him for who he is—the good and the bad. 

No father wants to look foolish in the eyes of their children; we all want our kids to see us as superhuman and infallible. We all want our kids to look at us the way Jake looks at Sisko. But I simply have too many foibles to hide, too many mistakes to cover up. Sisko-level parenting is out of reach for me. 

It brings me no end of relief to know that even if I’ll never measure up to the best dad on Deep Space Nine, I might resemble the second-best dad on Deep Space Nine. And just like Rom, my embarrassing mistakes can inspire my kids to be their best selves. 

Joe George (he/him) writes about pop culture for outlets such as Tor.com, Bloody Disgusting, and Think Christian. He collects his work at joewriteswords.com and tweets from @jageorgeii.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine