“For years, psychology and psychiatry have bandied around theories that homosexuality is caused by parental personality types — the dominant female, the weak male — or by the absence of same-gender role models. Those theories are no longer accepted within psychiatry and psychology.” – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
In the science fiction universes of both “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” there is an overall popular acceptance for the all-important father/son dynamic with regards to the motivations of the main male characters and to their personality formation; specifically with the males in the Skywalker family and in the case of both Mr. Spock and William T. Kirk . For example, in the “Star Wars” saga, there is a line of abandoned and insecure boys starting with the character of Anakin Skywalker: growing up a rather maladjusted boy; in “The Phantom Menace,” we first meet Anakin as an abused fatherless slave. This immediately harkens back to the first film in the series, “A New Hope,” were Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, is psychologically marooned on the same desert planet, years in the future, without a father, and unable to relate with his feckless, but well-meaning, surrogate parents. But, here, the son, like in the Arthurian legend, redeems the father; as the virginally pure Galahad attains the Holy Grail and sets right the chaos initiated by the sins of his father Lancelot. Luke is a similar sort of warrior monk in dark robes and a cowl, best seen with his hermit-like teacher Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back.” However, Anakin, damaged from his childhood years of loneliness and cruelty, becomes incredibly needy and paranoid as an adolescent and then as an adult: he longs for male guidance and acceptance, saying to his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi: “You’re the closest thing I have to a father…I love you. I don’t want to cause you pain.” Only, he is u
nable to shake his insecurities – resulting in the fruition of his fears: ultimately betraying and hurting those he tries to love; even his beloved wife, because he instinctively fears that he will be abandoned yet again. This particular form of self-destruction is habitually associated with modern male homosexuality.
In “Star Trek,” the father/son conflict is less central, but still obvious. In “The Original Series,” this is expressed most explicitly with the relationship between Spock and his father Sarek; unable to show human emotional response, Spock grows up never experiencing the love from the father. Being half-human, Spock continually internalizes this loss as an inner battle between his superior Vulcan and weaker human half; this comes to a head, after 18 years of estrangement, when Spock and his father have a sort of cold reunion, in the episode “Journey to Babel,” that even strikes Kirk as dysfunctional. Later, there is a resolution when Sarek becomes deathly ill and his son saves his life; their seemingly emotionless repartee afterwards annoys Spock’s human mother, but, their subtle stabs at sarcasm marks the closest point that two Vulcan males can come to any notion of affection and love. This same type of conversation is replayed in the film “The Voyage Home,” where Spock finally hears that his father is proud of him – reverberating with the words from Scripture: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” In a very real sense, Spock is gaining the approval from his father that he always longed for; that conflict is over.
Also in “The Original Series,” although less is known about Kirk’s background, like Spock, at times, he seems similarly at odds with himself, specifically in his relationships with women; torn between duty and emotions, Kirk is never able to commit – resulting in a string of romances that often leaves him remorseful and sadly alone. All of these subtexts come together with the excellent exploration of father and son in “The Wrath of Khan” film where Kirk’s former love, Carol Marcus, and his son are introduced. The boy, having been solely raised by his mother, and, now a young man, is angry, bitter and resentful towards his father; he has even taken his mother’s surname and is known as David Marcus. Unlike his dad, he has grown up in the more cerebral environment of his scientist mother – detached from the adventure of his father’s world; this has caused David to at once detest his father, but to also long for his acceptance. After a decidedly rocky start to their relationship, in what is probably the most touching scene from the entire “Star Trek” movie franchise, the son, looking like a lost child, is embraced by his finally loving father. Yet, in this moment, much is also revealed about not only the son’s loss and ultimate redemption, but about the father’s own inability to once relate with his own child.
In the “Star Trek” reboot, when the film begins with the birth of Captain Kirk and the death of his father, the story of William Kirk beings to emerge; a few years later, Kirk is depicted as a hell-raising miscreant with no guidance and little ambition. Though naturally gifted, Kirk is oppressed because he continually lives under the shadow of his mythically heroic father. He only begins to turn around when a thoroughly masculine albeit caring male role model enters his life in the form of Captain Pike. Like in “Star Wars” and in the Spock storyline, death is the common point of departure for each character: in the case of Anakin, so fragile is his psyche that just the near possibility of loss is enough to cause madness; with Kirk, after the violent murder of Pike, it creates a near uncontrollable rage – his descent “Into Darkness;” but unlike the similarly head-strong and impetuous Anakin, Kirk is able to respond to direction from other males – specifically from the older surrogate father Dr. McCoy and from Spock; although Spock and Kirk are near in age, in the “Star Trek” films, the prematurely aging Leonard Nemoy looked more like father than friend when next to William Shatner.
In “The Search for Spock,” again, through death, the father/son cycle in the Kirk storyline, beginning with his own feelings of loss for the dead father he never knew, and then, in reuniting with his son, is finally resolved; in that film, David, Kirk’s son, moves beyond the character of the angry and hurt young man to a true manly act of self-sacrifice when he defends Spock and a Vulcan woman – giving up his life for theirs; although his fight with the knife-wielding Klingon is short and somewhat pathetic looking, owing to David’s much slighter frame and lack of general battle skills, it’s a remarkably heroic effort that becomes a sort of symbol for the treacherous leap into masculinity; not proven by the successful or failure of the deed, but by the ultimate cost in the giving of oneself; as an aside, David was played by Merritt Butrick, a not particularly robust looking man, before this role – he had been typecast in various portrayals as either the nerd or high-school misfit, but as an actor, he was able to convey a growing inner sense of manly confidence; Butrick would die of AIDS in 1989 at age 29. Unsurprisingly, the death of his son, sends Kirk into a rage, but, like before, he has emotional support from male colleagues. At the end of the film, in hearing of his son’s bravery, in a sense, Kirk is finally free of the torments which haunted him since he was a boy; this new found freedom sets up what is probably the best in the entire “Star Trek” movie franchise: “The Voyage Home;” in this installment, Kirk is conclusively and wholly at ease with his friends and with himself – witnessed in the highly successful comedic elements of the script; like at Camelot and in the “Star Wars” universe, the son, in his own quest for authentic manhood, has redeemed the father, in a sense, setting everyone free.
In the other “Star Trek” franchises, the father/son dynamic was always central to many of the dominant plot-lines:
In “The Next Generation,” the Klingon Lieutenant Worf grows up an orphan, often dealing with the rumors of cowardice and scandal that overshadowed his father’s death; with his own adoptive Earth parents, there is always conflict that then influences his strained relationship with his own son Alexander – who ends up with his father, after the death of his mother, and when his adoptive grandparents realize that the boy needs a father; more like his somewhat anti-Klingon mother, who was half-human, Alexander is unlike his father; later, there is a resolution, in the “Deep Space Nine” series when an estranged Alexander and Worf are reunited: seeking approval from his father, the now adult Alexander has joined the Klingon military, though Worf believes that his son neither has the ability nor the toughness to be a warrior; only after the son proves otherwise to his father, does the boy pass into manhood.
In the “Deep Space Nine” franchise, there is the ultimate example of the healthy father/son bond in the characters of Captain Sisko and his son Jake; like many of the other “Star Trek” males, Jake lost one of his parents, his mother, at an early age; but, unlike Worf, Captain Sisko immediately rises to the challenge of being solely responsible for his son. Part of their comradery has to do with a shared love of baseball, often, the two spend their free-time playing the game in the 3-D “holosuites;” there is an ease in their relationship that only comes from the dedication of the father to the son; a willingness on the father’s part to take the time, to nurture, and to love his son; so, when Jake decides not to enter Starfleet, but to be a writer, he is supported by his father. The best episode in the series is when, in an alternate universe, an aging Jake cannot come to terms with the possible death of his missing father; becoming increasingly obsessed with how to save his dad, Jake finally gives up his own life in order to rescue his father from the apparent subspace field in which he is trapped; it works, and then father and son get a second chance at life together; again, the themes of sacrifice and redemption.
In the “Voyager” franchise, the pseudo-Captain Kirk character of Tom Paris, is much like Kirk, in that he, at first, is an undisciplined hell-raiser, yet, Paris is not an orphan, although he does live under the shadow of a great and heroic father, Starfleet Admiral Paris. Unable to live up to the standards of his domineering father, parish quickly flamed-out and ended up disgracing his family after a fatal stunt, a court-martial, and then a conviction for treason. Released from prison for a special Federation assignment, Paris got a second chance; but when Voyager, the ship on which he now serves, is flung across the Galaxy, in spite of the ever-present danger – he is still cocky, obnoxious, and smugly self-assured, but his male bravado is empty posturing and eventually reveals the hidden core of a boy who desperately needed his father’s approval. During the course of the series, Paris, matures, again, under the guidance of an older male role model, the reformed bad-boy traitor Chakotay. Also, integral; to the Paris story is the healing of a hurt man by a caring and strong-willed woman; one whose patience is infinitely tested by the man’s arrogance and unwillingness, but who never succumbs to the temptation of babying the broken boy inside; Paris found that in half-human, half-Klingon B’Elanna Torres: at times, she is quick to point out his tendency towards narcissism and pride, but she expects more from him; she expects Paris to be a man; this confidence instills in him the desire to do better and to be better; with the help of Torres, by the time Voyager returns to Earth, in the mind of Paris, the rift between father and son is over. This scenario is sort of the antithesis to what takes place between Anakin and Padmé Amidala, where, when she should rebuke him, primarily after the slaughter on Tatooine in “Attack of the Clones” she doesn’t, instead – she overly empathizes with the broken, now violent and self-destructive, boy still calling the shots; but, in a sense, Padmé is crippled when confronted by the sheer ugliness which is inside of Anakin; he is the hurt-child pushed to the extreme. Like many who are trapped within homosexuality, it takes something incredibly dramatic to pull him out of the trauma: loss, betrayal, disease and death. In the case of Anakin (Darth Vader,) it’s the near murder of his son.
If we can wholeheartedly accept these paradigms in popular fiction, then why can we not do the same in our own lives?
“Fathers may be anything – even, nowadays with recent changes in conception, mere donors of sperm. Yet when I walked into the local hardware store this morning and saw two young boys standing with their father at the check-our counter, I instinctively bristled – thinking, This is what I missed. Fathers, to some extent, no matter what else they do, are supposed to initiate their sons into the male role, the realm of men, which is to say, the world.”
“The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers” edited by Bruce Shenitz; Da Capo Press: 2002.
“…we find that adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives…Adolescent boys who have a father figure in their lives are significantly less likely to engage in subsequent delinquent behavior than are their peers with no father in their lives. For example, the incidence of any form of delinquent behavior is 7.6 percentage points lower among boys living with their biological fathers…”
“Fathers and Youth’s Delinquent Behavior,” with Deborah Cobb-Clark. NBER Working Paper No. 17507. Forthcoming in Review of Economics of the Household.
“The majority of our participants wished that their father had been more involved in their lives growing up. Specifically, they lamented not having a role model who could teach them how to ‘be a man.’”
“A Qualitative Analysis of Father–Son Relationships among HIV-Positive Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men”
Sophia A. Hussen, et al.
J Urban Health. 2014 Aug; 91(4): 776–792.