Worf, the steadfast and fearless warrior of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, has a reputation as a “bad dad” among fans.
I understand why people would think that. Worf is honorable and hardworking and has the best of intentions, but seems completely overwhelmed with caring for his son Alexander. He is gruff and rigid and stern, and yells quite easily. He repeatedly sends his son away to live with his grandparents. He assumes his duty is to shape his son to be exactly like himself, and is stymied by any suggestion that Alexander should be allowed to be his own person.
On the Enterprise-D, personal struggle tends to be handled by psychics – or not at all. The rest of the crew seems ill-at-ease and formal around painful emotions, and don’t know how to help. If the situation can’t be eased by a string quartet, the senior staff seems at a loss.
As a therapist, I think that it makes sense that Worf is having a rough time.
Orphaned at a young age by a battle that killed almost everyone he knew, Worf was adopted by well-meaning humans into a foreign culture. Worf and his parents have a complex relationship that seems difficult at times to navigate, but they are ultimately supportive.
With his parent’s support, Worf forged a unique path that honored both his Klingon heritage and his Human upbringing. He is a Federation success story.
But then he becomes the father. He ends up raising a son who is also an orphan, who is also suffering the loss of a mother at a young age. He feels unprepared and scared of failure for the first time in a while, and his hard-won identity as a success story is challenged.
Worf’s parenting is an example of what I refer to as “complex caregiving”. While even the most prepared and seasoned caregiver can find taking care of others difficult, many caregivers face unique challenges: issues in their own childhood, taking care of someone who is mourning a loss, cross-cultural issues – all pertain to Worf’s case. Even a fierce, self-sufficient warrior needs help in such situations.
As a counselor, I believe that caregivers in complex situations often need more support than they’re currently getting. I think that Worf’s experience of caregiving could have been better if he had someone to talk to regularly about his struggle, to help him navigate his complex situation, and to help him make connections between his experience and his child’s. That ability to process what has happened can change a strained caregiving experience to an enriching one.