Yesterday, I posted this to Instagram.
My caption said that I could tell just by looking at those two guys that they used to be cool.
That’s a reference, a call back, to something that happened when I was sixteen. I’ve written about it in at least one of my books, and it’s come up at conventions over the years. But I gather from 24ish hours of comments at Facebook and on Instagram that many of you don’t know what I was talking about.
Allow me to tell you a story that I just love to tell.
When I was a kid on the Enterprise, I idolized Frakes. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to do everything he did. I wanted to be as cool, as kind, as confident, as Frakes was. Because I looked up to him so much, so did Wesley Crusher. Like, Wesley does The Riker when he sits in chairs because I thought it was cool that Frakes did The Riker when he sat in chairs. Nobody ever asked me about it, but I was ready to defend that choice with my dying breath. Those times Wesley and Commander Riker were on some assignment together were my favorite, because it meant I got to spend my whole day with him at work.
Anyhow. One day, we wrapped at the same time and I just about plotzed when Frakes asked me if I wanted to walk to the parking garage together. Like just imagine. You’re in high school and the coolest person you know, the person you IDOLIZE is just casually like, “hey, want to hang out?” I grabbed my backpack, made sure I had the keys to my car in my pocket, locked my dressing room behind me, and we walked across the back lot, to the garage, together.
I can’t recall exactly what we talked about. It was probably stuff that happened at work that day, and I feel like he asked me about Depeche Mode, which was my absolute favorite band in the world at that time. What I remember like it just happened was how good he made me feel. Frakes made me feel seen. He made me feel valued, and loved, and worthy. I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but he made me feel the way a loving father makes his kids feel.
As you know, I did not have a loving father. I had a bully. And it sucked. So the time I got to spend with Frakes was like water to a captain who is dying in a cave on some asteroid or whatever.
So we got to the garage, and it turned out that even though our call times were hours apart, we’d parked right next to each other, a few spaces up the ramp from our captain. Frakes pointed to Patrick’s Jaguar. “You know he got that because the car you bought was slightly better than his, right?”
I had heard this around the set, and it was as hilarious as it was unbelievable. But it was true. In 1988, Patrick bought a pretty standard Honda Prelude, and I bought a ridiculously pimped out Honda Prelude si4WS. In TNG lore, it has become known as “Wil Wheaton’s Slightly-Better-Than-Patrick Stewart’s Prelude”.
I told him I had heard that, and that I felt a little badly about it. Again, he pointed to Patrick’s fancy, expensive, luxury car. I wish I could recall his precise words, but he said something about Patrick going all-in on a fancy car, to ensure he didn’t get shown up by the Teen Idol again.
The walk to the parking garage was brief. Like, maybe five minutes. In that five minutes, Frakes was just so kind and gentle with me. He treated me like a peer, like a person he cared about, like a person he genuinely liked. I felt so safe with him, like I could tell him anything.
I never, ever, not once, felt any of those things from the man who was my father. The man who was my father made a choice when I was young to withhold all of those things from me (he gave them freely and generously to my brother and sister so I know he had them to give), and at sixteen years-old, it was getting harder and harder to pretend that he didn’t treat me differently than he treated my siblings. I began to believe that there must be something wrong with me, and if I could just figure out what it was, I could earn his approval and maybe his love. SPOILER: I could not, because it was never about me. It was always about him.
So Frakes and I are standing in the parking garage and I don’t want to get in my car and go home. I want to stay there and talk with this adult who treats me like I’m a good person who is worthy and valued and seen. And before we part ways, I want to convey to Frakes that, if he were my age, I would want to hang out all the time. I want to communicate to him that he’s a role model for me, that he’s made me feel so good about myself, and that I valued the walk to the garage he’d invited me to be part of with him.
So I gather up all my courage and communication skills, and I say, “I can tell just by looking at you, that you used to be cool.”
Frakes laughed that wonderful, boisterous, joyful laugh of his and said, “What do you mean ‘used to be’?”
I was mortified. I was an awkward nerd (yeah, WAS) and I wasn’t good with words in the best of circumstances. I stammered and sputtered and tried my best to explain what I meant. I don’t remember what was said, but I remember that he got it. He knew what I meant, and he received it with kindness and grace.
The next morning at work, we were all on the bridge, the entire cast. We were either just finished with or about to start a rehearsal, and Frakes told the entire cast and crew what I’d said in the garage. EVERYONE laughed … and here’s something really important: nobody was laughing AT me. Everyone was laughing at the idea that Frakes, who was beloved by everyone with good reason, “used to be cool”, according to the kid.
I remember that I didn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated or stupid. I felt a little sheepish, but I didn’t feel judged by anyone.
Can I just tell you how different that was from how I felt at home? For as long as I could remember, the man who was my father would single me out for ridicule, humiliation, and embarrassment. He reveled in making me feel small, unworthy, stupid, and not just worthless to him, but objectively worthless. He laughed and laughed and laughed when he did these things. My brother and mother joined him. Only my sister did not. Guess who remains in my life from my family of origin?
One of the things I’d learned in my family at home was that I couldn’t speak up when something upset me. My parents always turned what someone (usually one of them) had done to me into something that I actually deserved, or was somehow my fault. So the very, very few times I spoke up to my mother about how much her husband was hurting me, it was a big deal. It took courage, and effort. It was also a total waste of courage and effort. “Oh, he’s just teasing you,” she would say. “Try not to be so sensitive,” was a popular bit of unhelpful advice. And always, ALWAYS, it was somehow my fault that he hurt me.
I imagine that’s a bit of a trigger for some of you reading this. I see you, and I’m sorry.
One of the things I saw for the first time that morning on the bridge, while my Star Trek family laughed together with me, was that what the man who was my father did wasn’t “teasing” like my mother said it was. It was bullying. It was hurtful. It was cruel. It was a choice to humiliate and ridicule me for his own gratification. He never did it to anyone else. He only did it to me. And it was her choice to ignore it, enable it, and make it somehow my fault for being hurt by his cruelty. I would spend over two decades in denial about all of this, but that morning, I saw it clearly for the first time.
For months after that day in the garage (indeed, to this very day), Frakes would joke with me about how he used to be cool. He told the story at conventions when we were together, he asked me to tell the story when we were in mixed company. And he always gave me a little shit about it, in a loving, gentle, dare I say fatherly way. And whenever he did, I felt loved. I felt like I was in on the joke, because he made sure I was. For 35 years, we’ve told this story, and it always brings joy to us both.
I look at that photo of us together from yesterday, and I can almost imagine what it must be like to have a dad who loves you, who makes you feel like you’re enough, who wants you to succeed and is proud of everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
I am so grateful for my Star Trek family. I am so grateful for this memory.
44 thoughts on “I can almost imagine what it must be like to have a dad who loves you”
The people who were supposed to love you didn’t, and that sucks, but you have a world of people who do, out of no familial obligation, just because you’re amazing and worthy of love. I’m glad you found your true family.
My eyes are leaking.
I’m so happy that you have Frakes and your TNG family, Wil, and doubly happy that after years of questioning your worth thanks to the POS who raised you, you have realized that they ARE your true family, they love you, you belong among them, and you deserve their love.
I only met Jonathan Frakes once at a conference. Just in the few minutes we had, he struck me as exactly the man you describe. He is a true gentleman. As are you.
As someone who “borrowed” other people to be better mother for over the course of most of my 43 years, I totally get this, I can completely see Frakes being one of those people (as Gates was too, I’m sure). I’m so so sorry you had parents that did to you what the woman who birthed me did to me, but so so happy that you had people like these in your life to show you how it’s supposed to be. ❤
I know this story and read it again start to finish anyway because it’s awesome. I wish I had a dad like frakes too.
For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought you were cool. But just looking at this picture, I get teary seeing what you see. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Amazing, isn’t it, what an impact a small kindness can carry? I’m so glad you had the refuge of your professional family to help you become you. Thanks for sharing your story.
Gah! I am so relieved that you still have wonderful memories to draw upon from that part of your life. I think many of us would be overwhelmed by the shitty parts but you are still in touch with the good. Thank you for sharing so deeply.
I’m so glad you had a loving family for at least part of your youth, even if they weren’t the one you were born into.
Well, damn. I had posted a brief comment, not knowing the backstop. Thank you for letting us know…I’m so glad that your TV family was there for you. ❤
Wil, I am just one anonymous man amongst the morass of the Internet, although one who grew up watching you on TNG. I don’t know if this stranger’s opinion will mean anything to you, emotionally. But I think that what you have become, despite what you grew up with — I know people who have had this trauma don’t always think much of themselves. I hope you know that someone who can look at you without the lens of your trauma coloring it — that someone thinks you have made amazing, kind choices with your life and that you’ve become an artist, a hell of a guy, and a true mensch. I hope you are truly able to look in the mirror and be proud of yourself and what you fashioned yourself to be.
What a great person, Jonathan Frakes is. He is as talented as a director as he is an actor and I Iiked his acting long before Next Generation.
I will never know or come close to knowing what it’s like to have a loving father, but I’m awfully glad you did and have over the years, and I’m sure JF holds you in high regard. How could he not? People intuitively know when young people have issues or need a friend and he was that for you.
You know, from the events you describe about your non-father, I have wondered if he indeed is your non-bio father. I went through a phase as a child where I got it into my head and prayed for it to be true, that I would find out I was adopted. How could I be treated with such cruelty by a parent. Ever think that or wish for it? Because it could explain a lot. Anyone else?
I was in therapy many times working on the defeatist, scared, negative young woman I’d turned out to be. One told me, “your father isn’t going to do it for you, Tonya” and suggested the book The Wounded Woman. Another suggested what I thought was No Trespassing, an older self-help book about setting boundaries. Anyway, no book has ever helped me. What has is time and that person/non-father dying. I’m a fan of Andrew Vachss, an attorney, novelist and champion of abused children. He rightly espouses the philosophy that survivors of abuse NOT forgive their abuser(s). I still have the article he wrote from long ago and wrote him a letter. I still have his letter back to me. He is a remarkable person.
Those are the people I look up to. Who do this work; to protect, get justice for, succor, care about those who don’t have a voice.
Thank God you had/have Frakes and Stewart, among others.
Oh Wil, I just wish I could meet you in person to give you a HUGE Mom hug. However, I am glad that you have this memory of what it would feel like to have a Dad.
Wil, this was lovely. Thank you.
Agreed, yes. Lovely.
That is such a wonderful story – and moments like that certainly helped you know that there can be good people, people who were capable of being real and having compassion which must have helped you grow into the man you are now. I am sorry for how hard it must have been to go home, knowing what you faced there and having learned at just how WRONG it all was. Kudos for surviving, for thriving and for helping us all along with our own journeys by sharing your own. Namaste –
In a moment of deepest distress, I said to my partner “Imagine being so dreadful a child that her own father can’t love her!” He replied, “Imagine being such a shitty man that he can’t love his own child.”
I think of that so often when I see him with our now-adult children – the way they love and respect each other – and love him all the more for it. I know kindness and decency is a bare-minimum standard for human interaction, but after all this time I still find it shocking. I want to live long enough for it to seem normal but not so long as I take it for granted.
Thank you for writing about the kind of pain I’ve been embarrassed to own up to for long and doing so with honesty and kindness.
Wil, I am so sorry for the way your family treated you. My own family was not as bad as yours even though I was not treated as well as my siblings. I did, however, have a great father who treated me like I truly mattered. Daddy always made me feel like I could do anything I put my mind to.
You had such a bad example that is so amazing that you are such a great Dad.
Be proud, Wil, for you have overcome and broken the cycle.
That was such a great read. I love that story! I laughed heartily!! Thank you very much for sharing it.
As a fan of TNG, I’m always very happy to learn the the professionals I watched when I was a teen are as decent as I had hoped they’d be.
Truly a fantastic story. Thanks, Wil!
I can relate to this. I grew up with an emotionally abusive father, too. Any place I was treated with respect by adults, I enjoyed. I hated being at home when my father was there. Each time he came home from work, I felt less than from that moment. The times he’d travel out of town were the best times for me. Now, he lives in Memphis, TN and it sucks that I can’t enjoy that city until he’s passed away.
You look absolutely like a loving father and son, with happiness radiating from both of you. Our chosen families are chosen for a reason.
Stories like that only get better from being told and re-told. Stories are amazing because we can hold on to them even as we share them with others.
I completely understand how you blurted out that “used to be cool” statement. It’s exactly the kind of awkward thing that falls out of my mouth. I’m older than you are, but my brain still functions like an adolescent’s.
I’l read this story as often as you tell it.
That’s such a sweet story. And the icing on the cake is that you and Jonathan Frakes resemble each other just enough to pass as a real father and son, or as an uncle and nephew. : )
Meanwhile, your real father, mother, and brother are missing out on the joy of having you in their lives. Someone who used to be cool and still is. : )
Wil, I love that you’ve shared this (even though you’ve shared it in various contexts in the past). It sounds like Jonathan Frakes was sort of the step-dad you could have had and should have had, but didn’t have. It sounds like he also might not have felt like he could formally step up at that time and in that place and–more power and respect to him–he nevertheless tried to provide an example. Double plus good on him!
Having read your blog for many years, and knowing you a tiny bit, it also sounds like Frakes has deeply, DEEPLY impacted the way you interact with your own stepsons. It’s great that you had that example, and that you seem to have internalized it in terms of how you help and protect your stepkids. I could go on, but the first draft got a bit preachy, so this is what everyone gets to see!
Those Star Trek people ARE your family. Just like Anne and the boys are your family. Never forget that. ❤️
Wil I know it’s hard to grasp. A lot of child stars ended up messed up. You seem to have come out of this with a clear head. Your folks didn’t know what to do. There’s no play book to raising a child actor. Your a survivor take solace in knowing that. I’m proud of you for having a clear head and also making the right choices.
I really like the way you write.
I’m so terribly sorry you had to go through alls this, Wil. i completely see and feel you, because, if you exchange the word “father” in your story with “mother”, there it is: my own childhood and youth. She did alls this to allthree of het children (my sister, my brother, and me). She died earlier this year,and my sister and I didn’t attend her funeral.
Sending a big hug to you over ca. 9,0000 kilometres (from Germany to California)!
What a lovely story – and I’m so glad that teenage you got to have that feeling. Thank you for sharing this!
I truly love this story. I never get tired of it and it makes my heart swell with love. ♥️❤️♥️❤️♥️
I’m 62, and I’m a poet and prose writer, and I’ve just started writing about my family of origin. It feels full of shame and horror. But if you ever see For Wil Wheaton as part of a title, you will know you’ve given me the courage.
I met Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner at a convention a few years ago. I loved them during the panel and – needless to say – got autographs from both of them.
They were great: Talking to people in the queue, joking, smiling and basically acting as if they couldn‘t imagine anything they‘d rather do than sitting in a badly ventilated hall, crowded with strange people wearing strange costumes (me, I was in TOS uniform, of course), and signing their names over and over again.
I was so happy to be there, that I thought my face would surely split from the stupid grin I couldn‘t wipe of it. And then, I finally held my signed pictures in my hands. I had already turned away from the table when Jonathan called after me: „Hey, Jennifer: Thank you for your smile.“
I swear: I will remember this for the rest of my nerdy life. And I had and have a loving, supporting family. So, yeah: I totally get you. And I‘m glad that you met him when you did.
That is such a beautiful story. Frakes sounds such a nice guy and I am glad you got to experience and relive that over and over.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. Thank you for letting us know that we aren’t alone & that what we experienced, no matter what anyone else said, did happen & how we feel about it is valid. I didn’t experience narcissistic abuse as a child thankfully. That started when I was 20. It was my dad’s 2nd wife & she was, still is, just awful. My own flesh & blood, who despises her, took her side bc they chose to “support” my father. He also takes her side to this day bc he believes he loves her. I am in a better place today, but it’s taken a lot to get here. I always remember Todd’s line from Parenthood, “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” It stands for both fathers AND mothers. I am so thankful you have your Star Trek family. ❤
I know acting want your choice, but I am so happy that it brought you to your space family. You guys exude love, not just for each other, but for those of us that also love the thing you created as a family. Thank you for sharing 🙂
When I saw the picture of you and Jonathan Frakes, my very first thought was, “Wow, they look like father and son.” I am so happy you have him in your life.
Glad you had someone to look up to. A few years ago I said something to a friend’s wife when she was showing us some pictures from half a century before. “Wow! You were really cute!” She looks at me and says, “Were??”. I hesitated momentarily and replied, “Yeah, even back then!” She let me off easier than I deserved.
Wil, I love you. I know, it’s just some stranger from Canada… but we have some stuff in common. (We even met once on a cruise but that’s a different story!) My father was an alcoholic, physically and verbally abusive, and seriously mentally ill. He was horrible to me and my siblings up until the day he took his own life about 22 years ago. It took counselling and hard work but he no longer occupies any real estate between my ears. I’m not hurt, I’m not angry, I’m not sad – I’ve moved on. Every time I read a post about your parents the pain is palpable – and it’s worrying. You don’t need to forgive, but you should pack it away and focus on what brings you joy. For quite awhile, I felt as though it was something about me that warranted the abuse. Now, I don’t. I truly feel sorry for my folks and the hell they must have been living in. I would have preferred a different childhood but that wasn’t my choice. The rest of my life, and the rest of yours, is a choice. Leave them behind. Hug Anne and the boys, love your dogs, create beauty in your own way. Take back the space these bad people occupy in your head and recognize that what they did to you is over, that it is no reflection of who you were or have become, take time to consider that while you suffered at their hands what must it be like to be them. I had a great counsellor help me with my journey, and she told me to read a book called “Toxic Parents”. I cried a lot but I got it all out and things are better. The best revenge is living well. I hope I haven’t overstepped. Big hugs.
I can always tell they looked after you well and were excellent role models for you growing up, i just love the crew of TNG it’s my fave one because of how much love i always feel from them and they have for each other and Frakes from the start i know from stories from Patrick he set out from the beginning to influence people in good ways and even loosened Patrick up haha! 😀 cos he probs knew too many people are uptight and don’t treat others well here in england, it’s too stern and stuffy you can’t breath and it only gets worse over the years, so thank god for people like Frakes really i love him too 🙂 what a bubble he is lol.
They’ve definitely loosened me up gradually these days i feel more human than i was back in my school days and i tried college too but it’s nothing to brag about if not it’s dehumanizing. so the TNG crew have defo been some of the people that helped me grow over the last couple years now that i get more things at 31, we all need people like them around us when growing up and i’m glad for you that you did. Hold onto them for the rest of your life cos they’re also friends for life 🙂 i wish i was lucky enough to know them all in real life.
I had a very awful father who was an unsophisticated bully who grew up with Elvis Presley as his best friend in Tupelo, but on the plus side – it taught me what not to be like. I wish for nothing more from the past, because there is nothing I can do about it, and dwelling on things that I cannot change would only cause undue suffering and sorrow. What matters most is the now, and the future that we make of it our past and present.
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