Humble Servant Leadership: A Reflection on Best Destiny’s Captain April
“Charge means responsibility, Jimmy, decisions. Maybe lives on your hands.”
This is one of the life lessons that Captain Robert April passes down to troubled sixteen-year-old Jim Kirk in Diane Carey’s 1992 novel Best Destiny, a sequel to her 1988 novel Final Frontier. In Best Destiny, April, as Jim’s godfather, shaped and mentored Kirk into the great leader we know from TOS. “Robert” (as April is most often referred to in the novel) did so by passing on his wisdom and experience to young, rebellious Jim and by modeling in his life what true leadership and sacrificial manhood look like.
When Captain April first appears in the events of Best Destiny, he has recently been consulted about Jim by his father George, who has requested from April a deep-space assignment safe enough to take his troublesome young son on. April explains to George that the Federation has asked him to lead a mission to break ground on a Federation archeological dig. Since the captain has been completely wrapped up in his own work – that of guiding and directing the Federation Starship Program – he has only accepted the archeological assignment as a favor to George Kirk, even though April is excited about the archeological mission too, and he encourages the frustrated father to look for the best in his son.
Although Jim makes no secret that he doesn’t want to be in space, Captain April endeavors to connect to him, managing to translate the wisdom he himself has gained with age into words that sixteen-year-old Jim can understand. April educates Jim not by lecturing or talking down to him, but with his own characteristic warmth, humor, tolerance, and understanding. He introduces Jim to the intricacies of life in space, attempting to infuse the boy with his own zest for adventure.When their shuttle (a Federation Earth-to-spacedock utility vehicle called a “stratotractor”) comes into view of the starship Enterprise and affords Jim his first glimpse of the ship that will become the great love of his life, April conveys to him his heartfelt hopes, dreams, and visions for space exploration. He explains that this will be the first starship, and the first Federation spacecraft to go on five-year missions.
Captain April soon embarks on the mission with the pair of Kirks and the rest of the crew. He boards a small Starfleet liaison cutter with the two Kirks and a small away team, heading toward the archeological site where April, a respected public figure at this time, is going to break ground. In this relatively quiet part of the voyage, Captain April is portrayed conveying to Jim the wonders and beauties of space.
When the liaison cutter is then attacked by space pirates and the small crew goes into Starfleet survival mode, April passes command of the mission to Jim’s father George, who then leads the offensive against the pirates, giving the orders to the Starfleet cutter’s crew. Yet, Captain April shows us that running the show is not the only way to be a leader.
Although he is neither giving orders nor making decisions for his colleagues, April is helping hold that crew together every moment. He has a depth of calm that the others draw strength from, setting his own feelings aside to be their rock. He not only comforts the younger, frightened crew but also soothes and advises the enraged George.
It is April who finally gets through to Jim. Sitting down to rest after sustaining an injury, he engages the teen in a life-changing conversation. He shares many of his insights into what it means to be a good officer, and a good commander. He shares how much he values George’s friendship and service. Despite the fact he is a decorated hero, April never speaks a boastful word, and he never reprimands Jim for speaking to him disrespectfully. He models respect by respecting Jim. April shares his faith in humanity and the ideals of the Federation. And finally, he gets to the very heart of Jim. He encourages him to trust and confide in George, telling him how dearly his father loves his family, a conversation which ends with Jim having tears in his eyes.
When the young comm officer Veronica Hall is presumed killed in a deadly accident, it’s Captain April who first sets his feelings aside and tends to the crew; he sits with each of them, listens to them, and comforts them. When they find signs of life from their injured crewmate Veronica, it’s Captain April who does the work of a field medic and binds up her wounds. It is he who stays with her and comforts her when she wakes up and realizes what has happened to her. It is he who tends to her medication needs and cares for her throughout the crisis.
When Jim is presumed killed, April holds George’s hand through the devastation, and he finds words for the unspeakable. He gives the bereaved father a lifeline to hold onto: “Jim was thinking like a man.”
April’s leadership has taken the form of nurturing and caregiving, until George makes one decision that he cannot let stand. And then we see another side of his leadership: he fearlessly and without regard for consequences takes a stand alone for what he believes is the right decision, even though it means overstepping the command structure and jeopardizing his friendship with George. In that moment, all the nurture and tenderness that define his character are gone, and in its place is steel. His decision saves Jim Kirk’s life.
After rescue, Captain April gives young Jim some memorable words of wisdom. He advises Jim to use the gangster side of his nature, the “dirt in his soul,” as a force for good. He, as a clean soul, cannot bring himself to make certain difficult decisions, and he believes that Jim can. Yet, perhaps Captain April’s way is the more excellent way.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.