For most of last year, I worked on and promoted my New York Times bestselling (I’m gonna keep leaning into that until it gets super obnoxious, and then keep going to a little bit) memoir, Still Just A Geek. A huge part of my story is my survival of child abuse and exploitation, living with CPTSD and the depression and anxiety that accompany it.
So it follows that for most of last year, I was picking at a barely-healed wound. When the promotion cycle wrapped up, I gave myself permission to just withdraw from public life as much as I wanted and needed to, so I could rest and regain my hit points. While I was resting, that wound I’d been picking at got infected and made me … not extremely sick, but sicker than I’ve felt in a long long time. So I did what you do when you’re sick: I went to the doctor, and I’ve been doing the work every day to get better.
We got the infection cleaned up, but the wound is still there. It’ll probably be there for the rest of my life, so I’m doing the work to heal it, let the scab do its thing, and eventually become a scar that I can’t feel. I can look at it and know that it represents all the work I’ve done to heal myself.
I haven’t wanted to talk about this at all because all those months of being vulnerable in public, revisiting the most painful and traumatic moments of my life, was a lot. I needed and deserve quiet, private time for myself to recover.
All of that is to give some context to what I’m about to share with you.
Last night, Anne and I went to the fancy premiere of Star Trek Picard’s final season at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Before the screening began, after we were all settled into our seats, Terry Matalas and Alex Kurtzman introduced the show, thanked the cast and crew, and turned the spotlight over to Patrick. He spoke lovingly and beautifully about the entire experience, in that Patrick Stewart way we all love.
As he was wrapping up his remarks, he said, “I would like to ask the cast who are here to please stand up,” so they could also be celebrated.
I remembered how humiliating it was, how much it hurt, those times Rick Berman deliberately left me seated while everyone else was standing up, those times Rick Berman made me feel exactly the way my father made me feel: unwelcome, unworthy, invisible. Not a great feeling.
But last night wasn’t about me. Yes, I have a wonderful cameo in season two, but I’m not in season three. And last night was about season three. It was about celebrating my family, who all came together for what is likely their final mission together. So I was happy to stay in my seat while they started to stand up. I clapped so hard my hands are still vibrating this morning. I applauded not just their work on this season, but everything they’ve given to Star Trek for over thirty years. I celebrated the absolute hell out of my family. And while I was doing this, I looked across the aisle at Frakes and clapped at/for him.
We made eye contact, and he gave me this incredulous look. “Why are you sitting down? Stand up, W!” He said.
So I did, and he applauded me, and I may have wept just a little bit. Or maybe a lot. I can’t remember. I was so grateful to be included in the moment by the man who I wish was my father, who loves me and sees me like my own parents never did.
My dad never made an effort to get to know me. It’s a choice he made, not some personality quirk, because he put a lot of effort into knowing and loving my brother and sister. My mom has gaslighted me about his abuse and bullying my whole life, forcing me to apologize to him when he hurt me. For a long time, I believed her lies and even tried hating myself as much as he hates me, hoping maybe then he would see and love and care about me. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)
A significant part of the pain I feel and the healing I continue to work on, is that awful black hole in my life where my father’s love should be. I’ve spent so much time there, I know more about it than anyone, certainly more than my manipulative, selfish, drunk of a mother who insists it doesn’t exist. I absolutely know my memories and my feelings and everything my dad chose to withhold from me are real, because I never once in my 50 years on this planet felt loved and accepted by my dad the way I felt and feel loved and accepted by Frakes. He’s always been there for me. He’s always made sure that I know I am part of a family, something my birth parents never bothered to do.
Later, at the after party, as I was saying goodnight, he said, “What were you doing, sitting down?”
“This whole thing tonight isn’t about me. It’s about you guys,” I said.
“No,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, “this is about us.”
I felt so seen, so loved … and had to take a deep breath to force the tears back, and I said, “Thank you for including me, Johnny. You are the best dad I never got to have.”
And we hugged each other, and he told me that he loves me, and I told him that I love him back.
91 thoughts on “see how we are”
This is a lovely, beautiful story, and thank you for the courage to share it along with a your experiences that would make anyone feel super vulnerable. You ARE loved, don’t you ever forget that!
If Frakes is like this as a director, he must have a long line of folks wanting to work with him.
Absolutely agree. And I realized, Wil didn’t leave his family daily to report to a job, he left the job of being an unloved child in a dysfunctional family and clocked into his family time… and got paid for it.
Your book promotion, the podcasts – helped me connect a few more dots of my own past, helped me feel seen and not crazy. I’m sure it helped a lot of people. So thank you.
As someone with a very similar experience with a un-loving dad, this hit me hard. It is great to know you have found the love and appreciation your biological parents were not willing to give you.
Much respect for you and what a beautiful moment to remember.
Joke is on your Dad, now you have millions of people that love you!
I just love this for you. It’s a truly precious feeling to realize who in the world sees and love you. Best to you.
Beautiful honesty and courage, Wil. Thanks for being the loving man you are!
Wil, as a fellow recovered survivor of a rough childhood, I can tell you that it all takes a long time to process. You are somewhere in the middle right now, and processing in a very public way (I will buy your memoir!)
I remember being stuck in that maelstrom of feelings and memories, and grasping for a lifeline. I remember feeling so betrayed, hurt, alone, sometimes angry, sometimes lost, and sometimes like a ten year old who had just had something taken from him that he could never get back.
The thing is, slowly, over time, I processed everything. What was once a hurricane became a thunderstorm, then it became a heavy rain, then a light rain, then a cloudy day.
Somewhere during the processing I was told “at the point in time that your experiences become an ‘interesting story,’ you have recovered.”
Eventually, that happened to me. Where there was once a furious storm, the rain had stopped and there were breaks in the clouds. One day I met someone who was in the middle of their storm. To my amazement, I was able to relate my own experiences, and my recovery from them, with no overpowering dark feelings. What I shared was just that: an interesting story.
I had recovered, and even better, those horrible things I had gone through could now be used to help others.
Stay brave, and keep processing, brother!
Next time you see Frakes tell him I said, “He’s a mensch!”
I just want to give you a huge hug, Wil, YOUR PERFORMANCE made me love TNG even as a young teen. I was devastated when your character left with the Traveller and so happy when he appeared again in Nemesis. Wish you nothing but the best, and THANK YOU for being on ride with the rest of us Trekkies.
This is beautifully written. I wish I could feel proud of my scars. They’ve been a part of me from a very young age not because of abuse but a physical disability and they serve as a reminder to the fact I am not as capable as everyone else. I loved watching Star Trek as a child because it showed me how being different didn’t mean less than and I felt less than a majority of my life.
Thank you, Wil, for writing this piece. Because you know what it feels like to not be treated well, your choice to be kind to each person you meet is especially beautiful. Doing the long, hard work of healing, and the painful work of breaking the patterns of generational trauma is no small thing. And when someone older than us can show us what it feels like to be be seen, heard, and loved, it teaches us how to better show compassion and empathy for the younger generations.
There is so much collective pain from the childhood of Generation X. Much of the worst of that story has to do with those who were unprotected and grew up too fast as child stars. Decades back, when I was a kid, I remember being at a movie theater and up on the screen I could see in your eyes a suffering that was clearly very real. It was something almost tangible that went far beyond your acting – like real life had given you so much to carry that you were straining under the weight of it. It broke my heart, and I hoped that someday you would find a way to overcome that. Somewhere in our hearts we are always a child, and as that inner child continues to heal, I hope that you’ll take a moment to let him play a game of Pac Man, or watch some old School House Rock episode, or go get him a happy meal.
There is the story we are told about ourselves for so many years, and later, there is the real story that we finally find the strength to tell. Learning to be true to yourself and finding your own voice can help others do the same. By speaking truth, you give others hope, especially to those who have not yet found the courage to do so. May the universe show you that it has your back, and may those who you connect with who’ve had a similar life journey continue to be inspired by your hard work and the way you have overcome so much. More important than any role you’ve played on screen is the hero’s journey of your own life. Thank you for sharing that heroic journey with all of us.
Loving Frakes for that.
ST:TNG was never why I followed you anyway.
As Fawkes, I thought “Cool! It’s Wesley.”
As the host of Tabletop & Titansgrave, I thought “Wil Wheaton is someone I’d love to sit at a game table with.”
Then I started following you. Not for the work, but for who you are as a person. As open, honest and genuine a human I know, despite not knowing you. I’m not a fan, I’m a friend you haven’t met.
Selfishly, I view your trauma as a blessing if it had any part in forging who you have become to those of us inspired by you from a distance.
If I can find half as much grace as you seem to, when rolling life’s cursed dice, I’d be a better man for it.
I don’t know if you will read this but if you do, thanks for a great article. I’m a mental health counselor in the Kansas City area. (How about those Chiefs!!) I have had various struggles with some forms of depression and anxiety. I am so glad you are brave enough to share your journey. I posted on Facebook several weeks ago that I was struggling with some discouragement and had another mental health professional that I should not post such things. His thought was that it might cause clients that read it to not want to see me anymore. Like if they are struggling with someone, how can this counselor help them if he is struggling himself. Well I am trying to normalize our mental health and trying to be authentic that even though I love what I do and love working with clients that struggle, I’m just a regular guy, human and sometimes do have off days. I am grateful that I have tools to help me cope when I have those days. My wife is also a big support and my rock. My father and I did not have the greatest relationship either so I connect with your story. If you are interested in hearing about our story. I wrote this after my dad passed away.
I also appreciate that you speak your mind. I am also a believer in Christ and respect your journey of belief and even a lack of belief in a high power is a belief in itself. If you haven’t check out the crowd funded show The Chosen, I strongly recommend it. It might help you to continue your own journey of belief or unbelief.
Always loved seeing you on the Big Bang Theory and glad you have started enjoying Deep Space Nine. My personal favorite of the Star Trek shows. But without TNG, there would be no DS9. Anyway, look forward to seeing you on The Ready Room.
Keep on writing. You are gifted.
I’ve made it explicitly clear over and over again that religion, Christianity specifically, has brought nothing but pain and trauma into my life. That is not a secret. I don’t want or need to listen to anyone talk about it. I have completely rejected all religious belief, and I hope that you and anyone who reads this will respect that. It’s retraumatizing every single time I have to tell someone to keep their religion to themselves, and I’m really tired of that.
People want to share Jesus with you because they care about you and want you to know peace like the peace they have received through a relationship with Him.
Christianity and religion didn’t hurt you. People using it as a weapon did. It’s terrible that happened to you. It won’t change the truth of who God is and what a relationship with Him can provide.
I have a bipolar dad and a narcissist mom. My mom and dad were both Catholic and I was forced to go to catechism classes as a child. I hated it and thought it was ridiculous. I was exposed to pornography by my stepdad at an early age. My mom knew and didn’t do anything about it. Since my parents were trainwrecks and I didn’t have anyone who cared enough to mentor me, I was taken advantage of as a teen by older men. My dad legitimately threatened to kill me more than once. By 22 I was divorced with two young children and no real direction. My life was in shambles until I met Jesus. I married a wonderful husband and we have 5 awesome children altogether and a precious grandson. I have a church family who loves me better than my biological family ever has.
Like anyone else who has tried to share Jesus with you, I care about you because you’re hurting and broken just like I was.
You can and probably will reject this post. That’s fine. Even so, there are people praying for you by name Wil Wheaton and prayer is a powerful thing.
Why do self-proclaimed Christians have such an incredibly hard time respecting my boundaries and basic requests?
Your religion has done nothing but hurt me and the people I love. It’s great that you find meaning in it. I do not. When I tell you all of this and you insist on shoving your religion in my face, you are only confirming why I despise and resent all of it.
Keep your religion to yourself. If you truly care about someone who has made it crystal clear that your religion hurts them, and you insist on shoving it in their face, you’re not a good person. No matter what you tell yourself, you are proselytizing at me, ignoring my boundaries, and not respecting me. You are retraumatizing me. You are announcing “I don’t care about how you truly feel or how my behavior affects you. What I really care about is street corner preaching at you.”
Keep. It. To. Yourself.
The CGI on this website is terrible. Everything became really blurry and dusty as I read it. Wonderfully written and what a wonderful family you now have.
I am so glad you get to know the love of a Dad, even the one DNA dealt you chose to be a dickweed. Mr Frakes is like if a hug was a person. I remember him always being cheerful and kind on the Leverage sets, even to a lowly background extra such as myself (trying very hard not to nerd out at crafty).
I still miss the man I wish had been my father, John, a family friend who was more present in my childhood and adolescence than my biological father ever was or chose to be. He’s been gone since I was in high school, but I still think of John as my Dad.
You may have had to wait for them, instead of having them from birth, but your TNG family is the family you were meant to have. As the saying goes, ‘blood doesn’t make a family; love does”.
Jonathan Frakes sounds like such a wonderful person. I’m so pleased that you have him in your life.
How much better would life be if we all had someone like him in our lives?
You’ve always seemed like such a lovely caring, thoughtful and likeable person. I’m sorry you’ve had to experience so much trauma in your life. Hopefully only good days ahead for you.
I loved your character on TNG. You were me. You were that geeky kid who I totally was. I loved science and to see you living my dream gave me hope for my future (as well as the future of humanity). I have read your book and have had a great time seeing how you have grown since filming TNG and the man you have become. I would be lying if I told you I DIDN’T jump off the couch clapping and screaming with glee when I saw you in PIC season 2! It is great to see your family of choice treats you with dignity and respect. Jonathan Frakes is my favorite over-the-back-of-the-chair sitter and a great man!
Love you! And I buy any audiobook I see where you are the narrator!
PS I love how you are so totally accessible to the fans! I once asked you about the men in Yoeman’s outfits on TNG (one of many I’m sure) and your answer didn’t disappoint!
As twitter has imploded, I’ve had cause to remember which people I liked about it in the earlier days and Wil Wheaton was a big part of it. Those memories prompted me to find you here. I love what you write!
I just came across your article. I’m 61 years old and still remember how my dad was never there for his family as I was growing up. He was into sports and drinking and my sisters and I would take off to our bedrooms when he got home from work because he was drunk. On vacations, he would go play golf and drink. It hurt. On my wedding day, I told him I didn’t want him there if he was going to be drunk. Years later, when he quit drinking, he did his best to make it up to us. My husband had the same problem with both of his parents. Sadly, it must have been an acceptable thing back in the day. It feels great when you get the love and support from others that you should have gotten from your parent(s). Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed watching you in TNG and in Big Bang Theory.
Thank you for your honest vulnerability Wil. This made me cry good tears. I’m so glad you found a loving family among the TVG cast. I just came across a great piece about the pain and difficulty of writing and publishing a memoir, and you might find it relevant. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/08/memoir-vulnerable-writers-protection-industry
NGL I’m crying right now. Sending love.
Wil, from watching all your Ready Rooms, the interaction between you and every actor and director it is clear there is so much love on both sides. Thanks for everything you share with us! Also, who will do the Ready Room for you when you do the Traveller, directed by Jonathan Frakes??? We all want to see that series!!!
I saw your first Ready Room of the season and I feel with an unshakable certainty that there is no one who could do that particular job better than you.
From Dancing Barefoot until now I have loved your unique ability to make me feel like I know you. And to watch you talk with your family about the Star Trek that I love is an amazing treat.
I hope you continue to take care of yourself as you have been doing. Thank you for sharing so much with us. Your Star Trek family is very lucky to have you.
P.S. That audio book reading is truly special to the point that I feel bad for anyone who only got to read your latest book.
You are so kind. Thank you.
1st episode of season 3 Picard. When the character introduced himself as Beverly’s son, I thought wait, where is wil wheaton? It would have been so satisfying to see you there. I always missed your character.
I haven’t started watching Picard3 yet because I like to “binge”, but I fear missing Ready Rooms (since they have in the past removed older ones), so I will be going ahead and starting up Picard again soon!
Rarely do members of real families grow up under the same roofs. -Richard Bach
I just want to say I’m glad and happy for you that you’ve found a group where you belong so well. And I really feel for you – putting yourself out there and sharing about mental health the way you do must be really hard. I very much appreciate it (as someone who’s been on a multi-year mental health journey), and wish you all the strength to rebuild and find the things that bring you joy and energy.
It’s incredible how powerful one gesture can change our view of the world and make us feel, whether that is for good or bad.
If I could ask people to say one thing to a child it would be to do say or something that resonates with your moment of being relevant, seen and wanted.
Watched your podcast with Bialik recently coincidentally, I think you’re the first person I’ve ever seen say publicly why you don’t need to be in contact with your parents, and you can also say anything about them and what they did when it is true. That’s refreshing as hell and important to hear.