The first toy I remember having as a child was a replica of the Starship Enterprise, a spaceship from the tv show Star Trek. The design of the toy is something I remember very well, how the gray plastic paint was peeling off in certain sections, how one of the ships thrusters was cracked and would cut your finger if you weren’t gentle, and how the sticker decals were faded and torn to the point of unrecognizability. And yet, with all the toys flaws, I still loved it as one of my favorites. The toy was a hand-me-down from my father. He was given the toy as a child from his mother, because Star Trek was something he has always been very passionate about. In all honesty, I have never really gotten into Star Trek. I’ve certainly tried, countless times. It has everything in a show I know I would love, but all the effort I put into it seems to be pointless, because it has never held my attention for very long. So then why would I have such fond memories of this toy? The answer is rather simple, I used the toy as a medium to reach for my father’s love.
I often think about how my father played with this Star Trek toy. Did he pretend to go on the same adventures I did as a child, fighting imaginary aliens and exploring new worlds? How similar was our imagination? Did he pretend that he was the captain of the ship and reenact some of his favorite specific scenes with his siblings? All these questions must be understood in a crucial aspect of my father’s identity, and that was his medical condition.
He was born with a very serious condition of heart disease, one with very little treatment at the time and was more expensive than his parents could even imagine affording treatment for. The stress of growing up under these conditions, with a crippling medical condition in a rather large, impoverished family, feeling as if the problem surrounding finances stems from the situation of you simply being born. At what age did my father begin to think like this, to come to realize the debilitating situation he lived under.
Was this toy a form of escapism for him? I don’t think I will ever truly understand his relationship with this toy spaceship, because all of this is merely speculation on his true feelings, and if he ever decided to share this part of his identity (which I hold some hope for, but like most fathers, he is very emotionally distant, and seems to lack the language of storytelling) I worry that the story of his life would not be too distant than the image of his childhood I have created in my head through the small moments of his life he has shared. This seems to be the way distant fathers form connections with their children, assumptions about each other instead of simply sharing an emotional conversation.
Over the winter of my third-grade year, my father was offered a new job position in a different state, meaning that we would have to relocate and settle in a new home. The experience children have with being relocated seems to be a universal experience, one that is shared collectively, and that is the anger and resentment children have of the world for moving so suddenly. How is a child supposed to rationalize the importance and necessity of moving, that the stress of it is not just on them but also weighs down on the parents who try their best for their children and hope they can understand when they are more mature that they did what they had to for the child’s betterment. The adult nuances of moving were very much lost on me as a child, and I rebelled as most kids do.
This anger, which stemmed from the frustration of being uprooted from the only environment I had known, had manifested itself in the relationship I had with my father. I would act out in childish ways, rejecting parts of my identity that I saw as too personally connected with his own. I had quit playing sports at this time, telling him that I only did them because he couldn’t as a kid (an intense accusation to make as a child, I am well aware, but I had truly come to the conclusion that playing sports was my father’s way of living vicariously through me). This was the biggest argument we had over the moving process, and due to the fact that we were packing all our belongings, I had thought the biggest statement I could make was telling him I didn’t want to keep his hand-me-down Star Trek spaceship toy. I had very dramatically placed it into a shoebox that I wrote “donations” on and placed outside my door for him to see. I don’t know how my father reacted to seeing his son give away a toy that he cherished for so long, after all, I hid behind my door so I wouldn’t have to look him in the eyes. Did he think of all his memories he shared with the toy? Did he take any of the accusations I made against him to heart? Or did he simply ignore this as a phase in my developmental learning, that whatever I said in an emotional state was not truly meant, and that like most children I was just testing the boundaries of our relationship for some sort of attention I would have gotten from my father.
These are all very potential possibilities that may have occurred, maybe he thought all of that the moment after I had tossed aside the spaceship toy, or he came to understand the moment much differently than I could imagine much later in life.
This argument between my father and I seemed to have no conclusion, no clean-cut resolution where I apologize for the things I said or where he says he forgives me for all that’s happened; instead, I get overwhelmed by the argument and snatch the Starship Enterprise back into my bedroom and clutch it tightly while crying. After this moment, life moves forward. Neither my father nor I bring this up ever again, as if addressing it would be acknowledging speaking it into existence, where we both would rather remember this as some sort of restless dream to be forgotten of the next day.
And as the days moved forward, I kept the Starship Enterprise toy in the same shoe box with “donation” written on the side for the rest of my adolescent years tucked away in the back of my closet, occasionally taking it out to hold and admire, but often forgetting it was there.
I can remember the times my father would take me to the movies as a kid, we did this often, seeing all the new releases of movies that he grew up loving (Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones). This seemed to be the easiest way for us to connect, utter silence while we watched a screen together. These were some of my favorite moments together, where he would take me out of school early and we would see the newest movie out, just the two of us together. I would give anything to go back and simply live in these moments, it has been quite some time since the two of us spent longer than an hour in a room together. Why is it that the thought of asking him if he would go to the movies together like we used seems so impossible, as if he wasn’t just one phone call away, as if he wasn’t just a few hours down the road, as if I didn’t stow away the Starship Enterprise in an old box of toys hidden in the back of my parent’s garage.
In 2009, the reboot film for Star Trek was released, featuring a fresh take on the now in-depth sci-fi franchise. I was eight when this came out, and this was one of the movies my dad called me out of school to go see with him. I remember being wowed by the flashy action and the fantastical futuristic worlds, but children are very easily impressed by often the simplest things. I tried rewatching it recently, because I remember the feeling of watching this movie more than the actual plot of the movie.
Trying to go back and watch this movie was certainly a challenge, the dialogue is campy, the script is subpar, and the whole movie feels hyper-masculine to the point of embarrassment. I really tried to push myself in finishing this movie, but could barely get through the intro “origin” scene without having to take an indefinite break. I got everything I needed out of the opening few minutes of the movie, and that is the main character’s father sacrificing himself. The sacrifice in question is very epic in scale (but somewhat comical when thinking too much about it). In the briefest of summaries, the spaceship is attacked by an unknown enemy. The father is forced to pilot the ship as the wife (who, for some reason, is giving birth for the movie’s convenience at the exact moment of the battle) escapes with the other passengers. The scene takes itself very seriously, stacking almost every single dramatic element it can in order to tug the heartstrings of its viewers and create some sort of sympathy for the main character moving forward.
I see this scene, being an adult, as goofy; however, what did my father think while watching this? Did he feel some sort of overwhelming catharsis as he watched the father figure die to save his family. Did he imagine himself in this scenario, facing down an unstoppable enemy and inevitably dying in order to save his family. The everyday sacrifices my father gave up raising his four children cannot be understated, we weren’t the easiest kids to deal with and so he often took a backseat role while our mother handled us. Is this why he had given me the Starship Enterprise toy, because this was the only way he knew how to say he would sacrifice everything in a moment if it meant helping his children? I wish he would show his love in less subtle ways, but it seems fathers have a funny way of showing that they care, and if someone someday ever cracks the code to their language of love, I ask kindly to be the first one told of this.