The Owen Paris that we saw later on in the series wasn't nearly as harsh as he came across in Tom's early accounts. Also, Tom told some lovely stories about growing up with his dad and his family - think of the rescue of the baby bird. This is my attempt to reconcile the different versions of Owen Paris.
Admiral, Father, Dad
It was the middle of the night. Tom Paris was in bed - wide-awake.
In bed with B'Elanna, 'wide-awake' was usually a good thing. Unfortunately, she wasn't wide-awake. She was sound asleep and Tom was stuck lying flat on his back.
Tom didn't like sleeping on his back. He preferred to sleep on his side. But B'Elanna was lying on top of his arm with her head on his shoulder, so curling over onto his side was out of the question. His back had already tightened up and now his shoulder was falling asleep. There was an unkind irony in that.
Since Tom couldn't move without disturbing B'Elanna, he looked for ways to distract himself from the discomfort building up in his shoulder. He vainly searched the ceiling for any variation in the sameness of grey that covered most surfaces on the ship. Given the Captain's exacting standards, there wasn't even a cobweb to be found. After ten minutes of effort, Tom concluded that he had to agree with Neelix, the ship's self-appointed design critic, as well as cook, morale officer and occasional ambassador. Voyager's ceilings were ugly - and boring too.
Tom changed tactics and turned his attention back to the events of the day. So much had happened. It was hard for him to remember every detail. Some moments stood out with an icy clarity that he knew would remain fresh in his memory for years. Others had already blurred into a misty haze.
The day had started out uneventfully enough. Voyager was flying through a quiet, unexciting stretch of the Delta quadrant. They hadn't come across so much as a minor spatial anomaly in over a week. Things had reached the point where Seven was using some of her time to try to improve Neelix's singing.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was this micro-wormhole and someone named Reginald Barclay was hailing Voyager from across the galaxy.
Tom remembered feeling the wave of excitement building on the bridge. Then the next part of the communication came through and everything changed for him.
"This is Admiral Paris."
The mere sound of his father's voice held Tom frozen in his seat. He didn't know what to think. He didn't know how to feel. His stomach flipped over and started churning inside him. Then came words that he had waited years to hear. He had waited so long that he had forgotten that he was still waiting.
"Tell him … Tell him I miss him, and I'm proud of him."
After that Tom wasn't frozen anymore. He just held on as tightly as he could so he wouldn't embarrass himself by crying. He was on the bridge, for Pete's sake!
Fortunately for him, the Captain stepped in and came to the rescue. "Mr. Paris, we'll be hanging around this part of space for a while in order to examine the data Starfleet sent us. There won't be much to do at the helm. I think the crew could use the time to fit in a celebration. Why don't you go and give Mr. Neelix a hand? He probably has his galley turned upside down by now, getting ready for a party."
Tom didn't know how he did it, but he managed to turn the helm over to his relief and he made it off the bridge. As the turbo lift doors closed behind him he thought he heard the Captain comm Engineering. "Janeway to Torres."
After that everything blurred again until he found himself standing in the mess hall and heard Neelix call out to him in alarm, "No! Tom! Not that one!"
Tom could still see the jar of hot spice in his hand with its contents precariously close to tipping over into the paracream icing in the bowl in front of him. Neelix's hand grabbed the jar. Neelix's arm steered him over to a table and sat him down. A mug of coffee appeared in his hand and his fingers curled around the mug. He remembered feeling B'Elanna's hands wrap around his, holding them safe, anchoring him while he rode the emotional wave generated by the message from home.
The late night prickles working their way down Tom's shoulder and along his arm pulled his attention back to the present. The pins and needles had just about reached the hand that rested on B'Elanna's waist.
It was unusual for B'Elanna to sleep with her head on Tom's shoulder. She said that pillows were more comfortable than he was. Their closeness was generally reserved for more active moments of passion. Once they were ready for sleep, they found comfortable positions on their own side of the bed and drifted off.
B'Elanna wasn't much for snuggling. Tom didn't know if this was a personal preference or a hallmark of her Klingon heritage. He took his moments of mushiness where he could and enjoyed the luxury of the comfort of his side of the bed.
Tonight had been different. B'Elanna seemed to know how much he needed the extra closeness from her. She had held him and they had matched the rhythms of their heartbeats until they fell asleep. It had been nice.
It had been nice hours ago. Right now it wasn't so hot. Now, Tom felt all the discomfort that came from lying in one position for far too long. The pins and needles that had woken him from his sleep were besieging his shoulder and arm with a form of slow torture that was becoming impossible to ignore. He tried wriggling his shoulder to get some blood moving. B'Elanna rubbed her nose against his arm and mumbled a complaint. Tom froze. He lay absolutely still until he could be sure that she wouldn't wake up. While he waited, the pins and needles spread into his fingers. Tom sighed.
Tom forced himself to relax and tried to distract himself again by recapturing the glow of the crew celebration. Everyone had been in such good spirits. They had endured some strained times these past few months. It was great to have an uncomplicated, happy reason to party. People were particularly pleased for Tom. Maybe that was because they remembered that Tom didn't get a message from home that time when so many others on the ship got letters. Anyway, people were pumped even before Neelix began pouring the champagne.
When the Captain asked Tom to make a toast in honor of the occasion, his thoughts turned first to his dad. It may have been Admiral Paris who addressed the crew, but it was very much his dad who gave the Captain that message to pass along to Tom. So Tom began his toast, "To … my Dad, it's nice to know he's still there." The Captain had understood.
Back when Tom was serving his thirty-day sentence in the brig, he had written a letter to his dad. At the beginning he had struggled over the words to use to address his male parent. First he tried, "Dear Father," then "To Admiral Paris." He had finally settled on, "Hey Dad. Long time no see," because it was his dad he really wanted to talk to, and it had been such a long time since he had a chance to do that.
Life in a Starfleet family can get complicated - especially for the families of high-ranking officers. Once Tom's father joined the Admiralty, even with the best of intensions, it was hard to leave Starfleet at the door. He may have tried, but he couldn't always manage it. It got even harder to separate Starfleet from private life once Tom entered the academy. Sometimes Tom would start talking to his father; only to realize partway through the conversation that it was the admiral he was talking to.
It hadn't always been that way. At one time Tom's dad had been the center of his universe. When he was young, Tom couldn't wait for his dad to get home. Even though Captain Paris had an important job in Starfleet, once he walked through the door, Dad was home.
Whenever he could, Dad took Tom with him to the beach. They walked along the edge of the water and made sand cars and sand castles. If it was warm enough they splashed in the waves. When it was colder, they had contests to see who could throw stones the farthest and tied pieces of stick together with string to send them off on the retreating tide.
When Tom was eight years old, his dad took him out in a two-seat, class 'S' shuttle. He let Tom take over the manual helm controls. That was the first time that Tom knew what it was like to fly. When they got back, they celebrated with root beer floats. That night Dad read Jules Verne to him until he fell asleep.
Dad wasn't all fun and games. Neither Mom nor Dad commented when they realized that Tom had company over while they were away one weekend and that Tom's experience with sex had now gone beyond heavy petting. The next day Dad brought Tom an old-style padd on practicing safe sex, along with new guidelines for entertaining visitors when Tom was alone in the house. He told Tom to read both of them and to come and talk to him afterwards.
Tom had expected the generic dry stuff. There was a lot of material that he had already covered in school as well as heard about in simpler form from his parents when he was younger. At the end, however, there were some first-time stories and other anecdotes added by various generations of Parises, both male and female. Apparently the padd was one that Dad had gotten from his own dad on the appropriate occasion. Dad had even contributed a story from his own youth. By the time Tom finished reading, he was actually interested in talking to Dad and felt comfortable asking questions too.
It surprised Tom because lately he hadn't been seeing very much of that side of the senior Paris - the side that Tom thought of as 'dad'. In fact this was one of the last really two-way conversations that Tom remembered being able to have with him. Another side of Owen Paris, one that Tom thought of as 'father', was taking over at home. Their relationship was becoming increasingly distant.
A few years before, Dad had gone away on a mission and something had gone very wrong. Tom was never told any of the details. Later, he figured out that his dad had been captured and tortured by the Cardassians. Back then he only knew that his dad was different when he came home, thinner, tired, sometimes even haunted when his control slipped.
Tom remembered his mom saying, "Not right now, Tom. Your father needs to rest." That was the first time that Tom could ever remember him being 'father' instead of 'dad'. It seemed so strange, so different. After that, sometimes 'dad' was at home. But sometimes it was 'father'. "Your father's not upset with you, Tom. He's just not feeling well today" or "Your father's tired, Tom. I'll go to the beach with you."
Tom learned to recognize 'father'. Father was reserved, almost rigid in his control. It was as if he didn't dare to relax. After Tom's experience with Alice, he began to have some idea of the extent of his father's ordeal with the Cardassians and just what his father was trying to cope with. Back then, all Tom knew was that father had become more set in his ways, less open. Once father made up his mind on something, the discussion was over, the matter was closed. When Tom was still a kid, he used to imagine that father had his dad locked up somewhere inside him. Tom got mad at father for taking his dad away from him.
With the benefit of hindsight, Tom supposed that his father was trying to protect his family from the worst of his reactions. The problem was that father got so good at holding in the bad stuff that he held in a lot of the good stuff too. Holding in his feelings became a habit that was hard to break.
Father showed up more and more once Tom entered Starfleet Academy. Maybe it was because Tom was older then, and 'father' sounded more grown up. But Tom didn't think so.
At the academy, father sent messages through his secretarial assistant, Nicole. "Your father wants to see you to discuss your courses for next semester." "Your father will see you in his office this afternoon to discuss your grades." "Your father asked me to tell you that he expects you home this weekend."
His father expected Tom home for Sunday dinner at least once a month. Every time Tom came home, his father gave a dinner talk on Starfleet principles and practices. There was also one very special yearly lecture on the Prime Directive. Tom learned to tune all this out.
If he'd thought about it, Tom would have said that he always considered his dad to be an honorable man. Tom certainly trusted him. But his father was almost obsessed with following proper procedures. Maybe rules were his rock. Maybe he needed that kind of security - something else to hold onto. Anyway, father was committed to following the rules. He insisted on maintaining a formal relationship with Tom while on campus. Because they were related, Admiral Paris was twice as strict in his demands on Cadet Paris when Tom ended up in his class. Tom had to seen as being treated no better than any other cadet.
On the other hand, many staff and students at the academy weren't operating on anywhere near the same page. They viewed Tom as an extension of the admiral rather than a person in his own right. He was Admiral Paris's boy in almost the same way that Admiral Paris had an office, a desk and a chair. Tom even lost out on the right to his own name. Most instructors on staff didn't refer to Tom as "Tom Paris" when they talked about him. When it wasn't "Cadet Paris", it was "Admiral Paris's son." Many of the other cadets followed suit. One wise-ass even dubbed Tom "Admiral Junior". Only Tom's closest friends called him "Tom".
It wasn't that Tom was the only cadet who had ever had an impressive relative. It was that his impressive relative was such a strong presence on campus, legendary for the demanding standards that he set in his courses and for his tough grading. Tom caught flak from more than a few who wouldn't dare to direct any at the admiral.
After a while, there seemed to be little room left for Tom, the private person, and even less for Dad. Dad faded more and more from their relationship. It reached the point where Tom couldn't wait to get away from all things connected to the admiral. Tom started to go out of his way to find ways to be different – to be himself. That didn't make the admiral, or his father, any happier.
In the end, it was his father who showed up at Tom's trial and sat in the spectators' gallery. Tom recognized the mask that he wore. It was the same one that he had worn when Tom was cashiered out of Starfleet. Father's mask became tighter as the trial progressed and the weight of carrying it took a heavy toll, making him look older than he actually was. That image stayed with Tom for a long time. It's what he was thinking of, many years later, when he told Harry, "Frankly, I think it was tougher on my father than it was on me."
Today, after looking after his duty as a Starfleet Admiral, Owen Paris had allowed himself to reach out to his son. There was no doubt in Tom's mind that the message he had heard came from his dad. After all these years of wondering if his dad had disappeared forever, it sure as hell was nice to know that he was still around.
So, Tom let himself hope when he made his toast. Tom hoped that this wasn't just another isolated incident, like the time Dad came around to talk with him about the stories in that old padd. He hoped that his dad would be there to receive it the next time Tom got to send a message home. He hoped that it would be his dad who sent a message back. Lastly, Tom hoped he would see Dad again when they finally made it home.
But Tom could only hope. He knew, better than most, how few guarantees there were in life. For now, though, hope was good.
Deep in her world of sleep B'Elanna felt something pull at her, urging her to wake up. It wasn't a call of nature. She felt no need to pee. The room was still quiet. No red alert then. Tom. That was it. Tom was awake and needed her. She could tell.
B'Elanna opened her eyes and looked up to see Tom's chin as he stared at the ceiling. "Hey," she called gently.
Tom glanced down into the brown eyes that he loved. "Hey," he answered in greeting.
"Couldn't sleep?" she asked, lifting herself up to get a better view of Tom's face.
"Couldn't get back to sleep," he explained. Tom's arm had no feeling left in it at all. He tilted his head so he could see where his fingers curled around B'Elanna's waist. He saw them in a detached kind of way. They felt like they belonged to someone else. He reached over to move the hand out of B'Elanna's way.
"Is your arm numb?" she asked.
"Yeah," he admitted.
"Why didn't you wake me?" She shifted again so she could rub her hands up and down Tom's arm.
"You were asleep," he answered simply as if that explained everything. He reached out with his free hand to touch her hair in that special way he had, fingering the strands as if they were as delicate and as precious as finely spun latinum.
B'Elanna smiled at him with the rare deep smile that she shared with few others. Tom felt the glow inside that came whenever he was privileged to see that side of her.
After a few more minutes B'Elanna asked, "Better now?"
"Oh, yeah!" Tom smiled back at her. At that moment all was right in his world. He relaxed into her warmth and inhaled the sweetness that underlay the spicy fragrance of her hair. Then he winced as B'Elanna's ministrations sent the previously dormant pins and needles rushing back into his shoulder. "Except for my shoulder," he added, ruefully.
"I can fix that." B'Elanna told him with a more business-like tone in her voice. Deceptively strong arms turned Tom over onto his side. She rubbed her hands gently across his back. He felt her massage his shoulder and then smooth his hair.
When the last of his discomfort subsided he tried to roll back to face her. B'Elanna wouldn't let him. "You stay put. I'm comfortable right where I am," she said firmly. She pressed herself along his back and wrapped her arms around him.
The warmth of her body soothed the residual stiffness in his back and Tom finally began to drift off. The last thing he was conscious of was a flutter of soft kisses traveling from the nape of his neck along the side of his jaw … or maybe he was confusing that with the flutter of seagulls' wings circling overhead.
Slipping into a dream state, Tom saw a four-year-old Tom Paris stop at the edge of the water to watch the waves surging along the shore. The incoming water teased, then tickled his toes. Gentle waves covered his feet in clear glass, before retreating and leaving presents of golden sand between his toes. Little Tom laughed, a bright childish laugh. Above him, a deep laugh resonated with his lighter one and Dad reached down to grasp young Tom's hand.
In the safety of B'Elanna's arms, a grown-up Tom Paris smiled in his sleep.