I’m 5. Precariously perched atop the kitchen table in my idea of a heroic pose, I’m busy yelling the famous opening lines from my new favorite show and hoping I don’t get in trouble for knocking over the Corn Flakes. I end with “To boldly go where no one has gone before” and smile gap-toothed at my dad, who calmly observes this display over the morning paper.
My father cocks his eyebrow, and I sigh and correct myself. “Where no man has gone before.” I clamber down and plant myself on my father’s lap.
“It’s just not fair. How come girls can’t boldly go?” I pull at my pigtail. Dad chuckles and folds his newspaper.
“I’m sure Captain Kirk will make an exception for you.” He kisses my forehead and I run off, temporarily appeased.
It didn’t take much detective work for my dad to realize that I was genuinely interested in Star Trek from a very young age. One week, my father found me planted in front of the television, acting out the episode using Barbie and Ken as stand-ins for Kirk and Uhura. That was all the evidence he needed; the next week, he began my Star Trek education in earnest. Gradually, he introduced me to the original series, then the movies; soon we were exchanging Wrath of Khan jokes at the dinner table in lieu of the traditional “What did you do at school today?”
When I was 7, an entirely new world opened up to me. Thanks to an odd scheduling choice by our local NBC affiliate, The Next Generation directly followed Reading Rainbow in the afternoon programming line-up. Each day I rushed home from school to watch Geordi read me a story and then go on great adventures with the rest of his friends in space. Suddenly, Reading Rainbow‘s life lessons were backed up by Star Trek metaphors (“See, Catie, it’s really important that we be nice to everyone, just how Captain Picard is friends with Worf even though he’s different”), and while I already suspected reading was cool, it was Geordi’s comprehensive knowledge of the ship as Chief Engineering Officer that taught me the importance of a good education – even if I wasn’t entirely sure how he made it from the library to the spaceship in time for takeoff.
Years later, when IMDB posted news of a new Star Trek film in 2008, my dad did something uncharacteristic: He called me at school to tell me about it. It was the second time in memory that my father initiated the conversation – usually Mom would do most of the talking while he listened in the background, yelling his input from across the room. But to him, this was an Emergency Situation worthy of a special call.
That November I received another special call, this time from my father’s nurse at the hospital. We arrived in time to be with my dad as he passed away due to unforeseen complications from the cancer he’d fought for over a year.
At his funeral, I realized how different my father and I really were. His friends were all lawyers, judges and members of law enforcement, solemnly dressed in dark suits and dress uniforms. I was in a bright-blue polka-dot dress with a shaven head in honor of my father. We may have been entirely different people – my dad, a serious criminal lawyer, and me, a wannabe writer/actress/poet – but we had a whole universe in common.
For my dad and I, watching Star Trek was never a passive experience. Instead, it became an outlet for our creativity. We imagined what went on after Spock saved the whales in Star Trek: The Voyage Home and drew pictures of what we’d want our space ship to have in it. I learned to change my oil and my tires playing “Geordi and Data” with my dad – which was the only way he was able to work on the car when I was around. We even took side roads on the way to the grocery store to fulfill our stated purpose to “boldly go.” My imagination grew with every new adventure – and so did my relationship with my father.
Our love of Star Trek was far from obsessive, but it seemed that for my father and me, Star Trek found its way into special moments. Every year on my birthday, my dad took me out for pancakes and pie at Village Inn. We would perform the entire “Which glass has the poison?” scene from The Princess Bride from memory and then spend the rest of the day watching Star Trek with our own Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style commentary, complete with Chinese take-out and thrown popcorn that we would hastily clean up mere minutes before mom could discover it.
Even after I was far “too cool” to admit how much these birthday traditions meant to me, my dad would remind me of how deeply the show impacted our lives together. On my 16th birthday, he presented me with a leather-bound copy of The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. Written inside the cover was the inscription “Never create an adversary you cannot defeat,” a fatherly nod to my all-time favorite episode of the show (and a silent acceptance of my preference for Picard over Kirk).
That copy of Sherlock Holmes moved with me to college. It was during my freshman year that I realized I had stopped relying on my parents for care and looked to them instead for guidance. And while my dad was hesitant to offer advice lest he guide me in the wrong direction, our secret understanding of Kirk and his adventures meant he usually knew what to say. Before I left, I told my dad that I was nervous about moving away for an entire year. He looked me straight in the eye and said “Boldly go, right?” That was all I needed. It was moments like these that made me realize what Star Trek had become. It wasn’t just a show to us; it was a way for us to communicate with each other.
In May, after much anticipation, I sat in the theater amid hundreds of eager fans and watched as the new Star Trek film began. It was a bittersweet experience, because my father was not there to see it with me. But I know he would have been proud of his daughter, sitting there among the most jaded and experienced of Trekkies, holding her own in an argument about the captains of the Enterprise. (The choice phrases I threw out in Klingon were, admittedly, more of a novelty act, but the looks on the guys’ faces were priceless.)
My dad taught me that Star Trek is bigger than just a “silly space show” or a bunch of trivia to memorize and spit out. It’s about the connections we make and the sense of common ground fans all over the world share. It can unite people from diverse backgrounds to celebrate a universe of adventure, daring and infinite possibility. It can also, as I have discovered, bring a father and daughter closer together and create memories she will cherish forever.
Catie Osborn is a theater major, resident slam poet and blue-haired mascot of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. She would very much like you to check out her website at www.catieosborn.com. Email her at Catie.Osborn@gmail.com.