Star Trek Fathers
This year’s intergalactic drama Star Trek: Into Darkness continues one of the themes that has long drawn viewers to the franchise’s television series and movies: a strong, brave, yet fallible captain who wrestles with the burdens of command. For many years, the center seat on the bridge belonged to Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, whose trademark commands when faced with challenges were “engage” and “make it so.” His starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, sped toward unknown horizons as Picard gave the order to “engage” and drew the best from his crew when he trusted them to “make it so.”
These two terms also have important meanings for Catholic men. They summon husbands and fathers to become more involved in their families, to work hard for their welfare and safety, and to do so boldly through a love that is tied to union with Christ and his Church. “Engage” and “make it so” call men to confront and overcome a host of threats both old and new before these dangers lead men, the ones they love and the world at large into darker days. The outer limits of space may not be the field of play as it is for the crew of the Enterprise but fathers nonetheless have to deal with unseen forces of good and evil, and the decisions they make for themselves and their families carry eternal consequences.
The modern Catholic man who sets out to “captain” his family as a husband and father must draw from the Church’s treasury of teachings and traditions. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the family “is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society” (2207).
Such “mission parameters” set the outlines for the inner life of the Christian family, which “assumes singular importance in the Church” and in which members are formed and educated in faith, hope and charity (2204). These virtues cannot be imposed by a distant authority, but rather are drawn forth by grace, love and example. As leader of the family, a father can offer abundantly what God gives him in abundance: unconditional love, guidance and direction, encouragement for success, and forgiveness in failure. He also is called to go outside the family to labor for the common good, to serve others in his parish and community, and to exercise civic and social responsibility. Ultimately, the responsible family man lives a life of charitable radiance that shines far beyond what he could accomplish alone or within the walls of the home.
Catholic fathers must pursue these high goals, for grim alternatives result when men disengage from family and society and retreat from responsibility. When men view headship as a hardship, the result is today’s widespread phenomena of fatherless families and confusion over the role and nature of marriage. The social, psychological and financial well-being of children the next generation is placed at risk. Society loses, and may begin to diminish and demean, the great benefits of masculine virtue.
Indeed, primetime television in recent years has put forth an array of weak fathers unable to set a positive example for their children. Yet we do have popular media models in the succession of “Star Trek” captains. Though imperfect, they have for more than 40 years set out on bold adventures for the good of mankind; served with selfless authority while putting others’ safety before their own; taken orders from their superiors as surely as they have given orders to their crew, who form a sort of family; and used every ounce of mind, muscle and emotion to protect and provide for those in their care.
Catholic men, especially husbands and fathers, must “engage” and “make it so” like these iconic captains of the silver screen. If fathers fulfill this important mission, their families, communities and the Church will have a brighter future.
JASON GODIN, a member of Col. Walter Parsons Council 3205 in College Station, Texas, teaches U.S. history. He and his wife have two children.