It's Christmas Eve, and like many people, I'm spending it with family. And my family? They're spending it with Star Trek.
I have my father to thank for getting me into Star Trek. As a kid, I was a huge nerd: while the other kids were playing baseball and street hockey, I was playing Super Mario Bros. and Dungeons & Dragons. It didn't exactly make me popular, which was hard. It would've helped if my dad had signed me up for karate lessons or Boy Scouts, like all the other kids. Instead, on Monday, September 28, 1987, he sat me down to watch a new television show. It was the sequel to a show he'd watched when he was younger, and he thought we'd enjoy the new one together.
That was the first time I saw Star Trek.
Wow! I'd read fantasy novels, but this was my first exposure to science fiction. It not only expanded my imagination, but it taught me so much. Captain Picard taught me that the way to resolve differences isn't by firing phasers, but through diplomacy. And the android character, Data, taught me that you could be smart and have no social skills and still be a valued member of a team — something I'd never experienced before.
Star Trek was a huge influence, not only on me, but on my relationship with my dad. We watched Star Trek together every week for 18 years. Mom never watched it with us — she was usually doing laundry, and when you have four sons, there's ALWAYS laundry. Star Trek was something unique that Dad and I shared.
In the Star Trek community, April 5 is considered a holiday: First Contact Day. It's on April 5, 2063 — just 46 years from now — that humanity makes first contact with an alien species, when the Vulcan science vessel the T'Plana-Hath detects the warp signature of Zefram Cochrane's test flight of the Phoenix and traces it back to Bozeman, Montana. So, on April 5, 2016, I made the traditional meal of pierogis — Zefram Cochrane's favorite food — and watched the movie Star Trek: First Contact.
Even though the movie has a happy ending, and I'd seen it a dozen times before, this time, when I got to the end, I cried. Inconsolably, I cried — because a month earlier, Dad had passed away… just six months shy of his fiftieth wedding anniversary, and five months before Star Trek Beyond.
When Dad died, I wrote the obituary, I gave the eulogy, and I put together the slideshow that played at the funeral reception. I set it to the orchestral suite from The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light". When Mom heard it, she asked me what that beautiful music was; I said I'd tell her later.
I'd coincidentally ordered the complete The Next Generation series on DVD just before Dad died, and it arrived the day after his funeral. I started spending one night a week at Mom's to keep her company. One night, I said, "Let's watch some TV." I popped in "The Inner Light", and we watched it together. When it was done, I turned to her, tears in my eyes, and she said, "That was great." I was glad she'd enjoyed it; my job was done.
But what happened next, I couldn't've predicted, not in a million light years.
Mom asked, "Do you have any more?"
Yes — I have all seven seasons!!
She said, "Well, if you're going to keep spending one night a week here, let's watch another episode every week."
I could not have been more stunned if she'd shot me with a Romulan disruptor.
I drew up a list of all 178 episodes and trimmed it down to just the ones I thought she'd like — but every now and then, I need to revise. Mom must've been paying attention when Dad and I watched the show 25 years ago, because one night, as I was preparing the next episode, she asked, "Does this one have the Borg?"
The cybernetic organisms that are Captain Picard's greatest foe?! No, I wasn't planning on showing you those, Mom… Do you want to watch them? "Sure!" For every episode we watch, Mom expresses interest in watching two more. She even joined me that summer to see Star Trek Beyond — the movie that Dad never got to see.
I love watching this show with Mom. Sometimes, I glance over at her to make sure she hasn't fallen asleep. And she never has — she's really enjoying this! And she confessed that sometimes she looks over at me. Even if we've made popcorn or some other snack, she sees mine going untouched as I stare raptly at the TV, completely entranced — like I'm a little kid, watching Star Trek for the first time with my dad.
Star Trek has become something unique that Mom and I share — something that none of my brothers have. And it's also a way to keep my Dad's memory alive. When Dad died, I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy. I never imagined that my mom would step in to fill that void.
My father has always been and always shall be my friend: he's the one who flew me to the stars. But when our ship lost its captain, it was Mom who took the helm and kept us flying true.
Merry Christmas, everybody.