Often a couple will bear a child and then split up under acrimonious circumstances. Although this is the case and the mother and father bear ill will toward each other, the remaining parent (or other parental figure) doesn't want to poison the child's mind against the other parent. Or they really would prefer not to have to admit to the child or anyone else that they were abandoned/left. Or one person will abandon the relationship leaving the other hurt. But still, a child is an innocent. Or the missing parent is in some sort of special circumstance, regardless of feelings on either side. So they'll tell a comforting lie or spin an embellishment of the truth that will allow the child to grow up proud of (or at the least, not ashamed of and humiliated by) their Disappeared Dad or Missing Mom. If the vitriol is sufficient, the reverse will also be true. The lie told about the parent is to make the child ashamed, and the truth is they are a better person than the child was led to believe. Sometimes the child grows up and finds out the truth and is disappointed. Sometimes the child grows up to find out the truth and doesn't care because they're simply happy to have the other parent in their lives again. The parent can also not care they've disappointed their progeny, or they can live up (or down) to the expectation placed on them by what the child was told. Occasionally it's a mentor figure who does the deceiving about the legacy of their absent parent. Guilt over keeping the truth from the innocent child may result in a Revealing Hug. Usually this is a Disappeared Dad being lionized or demonized, but occasionally it's the Missing Mom. Contrast Tell Me About My Father. I Wished You Were Dead is related in a roundabout way, but in this trope, it's usually one parent or the other declaring that the other is "dead to me". Also related to Motivational Lie, as a child burdened with shame might need the lie to go forward, or a child burdened with shame may get angry enough to overcome what s/he believes is their parents' awful legacy.
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Anime and Manga
- In the Speed Racer episode "Man on the Lam", an escaped convict comes across a house in the woods where a little a blind girl lives all alone. He enthusiastically greets and hugs her, commenting on how big and heavy she had gotten. She tells him that her father had died and her mother was off making money for surgery so she could see again. The man tells her that he was an old friend of her father. It is later revealed that she is friends with Sprital. Leading and after the storm he takes Speed hostage and makes him drive to where the loot was stashed. This leads to a mountain chase and shootout with the police and other criminals involved in the robbery ending with the man getting the mortally injured and telling speed to give his eyes to the little girl who was his daughter.
- Half-averted in Code Geass: Marianne, whose death served as motivation for her son Lelouch, really was killed in the backstory, only to have cheated death via Soul Jar, and was revealed to be a co-conspirator with Emperor Charles in his Assimilation Plot.
- Marvel Comics:
- X-Factor: Hangman's ex, the mother of his son, lied and told the boy, Terry, that his dad is a super hero when the opposite is true. Hangman is astonished to hear this, but goes back and tries to do something heroic for the sake of making his son proud.
- Daredevil: Played with. The Kingpin killed Echo's father, but honored the man's Dying Wish to raise her like his own. So Fisk told Echo Daredevil killed her father. She eventually found out the truth. It was not pretty.
- In Kick-Ass, Big Daddy tells Hit Girl that her mother was killed by the mob, fuelling their Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Genovese family. It's revealed however, that her mother is very much alive, and Big Daddy simply snuck off with her when she was an infant, so he could raise her to be Little Miss Badass and live out his fantasy of being a vigilante superhero. After Big Daddy is killed, she goes back to her mother, who had been searching for her for years.
- Armageddon: Chick's wife, ashamed of his gambling problem, and angry that he showed up unnanounced to see his son before going into space tells their small son that Chick was "a salesman". She changes her story, though, when the news reveals that Chick is on the teams going to save Earth from a giant asteroid.
- The eponymous character of Forrest Gump has a Disappeared Dad and his mom tells people that "he's on vacation." Though Forrest tells us that she told him that "he's on vacation" means he's never coming back, we don't see her clarify this for other people.
- In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Everett's wife Penny tells their daughters that their father died, rather than tell them he's in jail.
- In Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells Luke that Darth Vader killed his father. We know that Vader reveals that to be a lie (after a fashion: Obi-Wan considered Anakin dead, and grieved his loss, once he went over to the Dark Side and became Vader).
- Also, Uncle Owen told Luke that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter.
- In The Mask of Zorro, Elena was raised to believe Don Rafael was her father. But Rafael ordered the attack on Don Diego de la Vega which resulted in Esperanza's death. Rafael took Elena as his own because he'd loved Esperanza, but she'd chosen Diego. Elena grew up believing her mother died in childbirth. When Diego returns, he sets the record straight.
- In The Waterboy, Bobby Boucher's mother tells him his father was a missionary who died of thirst in the desert. Later on, she admits that she lied, and that his dad actually left her for another woman.
- Rookie of the Year: Henry's mother told him growing up about his great father who was a baseball pitcher, when in reality he left when she was pregnant with Henry. Subverted by the fact that Henry's grandmother had told him the truth years ago, and he'd long since made his peace with it.
- In A Brother's Price, Eldie Porter and everyone else is told that her father was some guy in a so-called "crib", a kind of brothel where women pay for a try at getting pregnant. However, it turns out that she was fathered by a man that is regarded the brother of her mother. It is not actual sibling-incest, they're cousins by blood, but socially it's a different matter.
- In the Harry Potter books, the Dursleys, Harry's abusive and mundane aunt and uncle, make out his parents like terrible people. Harry only finds out they're revered with love once he meets the Wizarding community.
- In the first book of the Percy Jackson series, it's admitted near the beginning that the eponymous character's mom claimed his father was lost at sea. Of course, the truth eventually comes out.
- In the Warrior Cats graphic novel trilogy Tigerstar and Sasha, Sasha gets pregnant with Tigerstar's kits before she realizes that he's a power-crazy murderer bent on ruling the entire forest. She raises her kits on her own, only telling them stories about how their father Tigerstar was strong and brave and that he'd be proud of them. A while after Tigerstar's death, Sasha takes the kits to RiverClan. Imagine the kits' shock when they see young RiverClan cats pretending to be the evil Tigerstar and reenacting his death.
Live Action TV
- In the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day", Rose's mother Jackie tells her that her dead father Pete was a great inventor and entrepeneur. Then Rose goes back in time & meets Pete, and discovers he's a bit of a prat.
- In Friends, Phoebe's grandmother (on Phoebe's mother's instructions, it turns out) tells Phoebe that her father is a tree surgeon worshiped by villagers in South America. She also buys photo frames and tells Phoebe that the stock photo of the guy who comes with the frame is her father. This was done so Phoebe would feel like she had an interesting dad, but would never try to track him down.
- Glee: It turns out that Finn Hudson's mother had been lying about her husband the entire time - he didn't die a glorious war hero like Finn thought, but was discharged dishonorably and died a drug pusher in Cincinnati.
- How I Met Your Mother, Barney's mother told him that his father was Bob Barker (because he was who happened to be on TV at the time). Barney clings to it because he wants an awesome dad. This was to cover up the identity of his real father, who Barney's mother didn't want in the picture.
- Once Upon a Time: Emma tells Henry that his biological father was a fireman and a real hero, who died heroically, and that she has nothing to remember him by to pass on to Henry. She was lying: she and his father Neal Cassady were criminals, and he abandoned her to be caught by the police on one of their con jobs. He's also Baelfire, son of Rumplestiltskin, though Emma didn't know this at the time.
- In Raising Hope, Jimmy's mother Virginia was raised by her grandmother (Maw Maw). Maw Maw claimed that Virginia's mother had died when trying to get honey from bees - she apparently put a plastic bag over her head to protect herself from the bees, passed out, fell, and hit her head on a porcelain duck. It turns out that Maw Maw was just lying to protect Virginia from the fact that her mother abandoned her.
- In Veronica Mars, one of the cases of the week the eponymous character receives is to track down a classmate's father. It turns out that his mother told him that his father was dead to hide the fact that his father has had a sex change.
- Heart-wrenchingly subverted in In Plain Sight. Jynx tells Mary that all of the stories about how Mary's father loved her most were lies made up to comfort the distraught young Mary. Mary flips the script by showing her mom all of the letters she's gotten from her dad over the years, asking "How many did he send you?"
- In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae has been led to believe all her life that her Disappeared Dad is living in the Outer Hebrides and is sending her regular postcards with news and inspirational quotes. It's eventually revealed that Rae's mum is the one who has been writing them the whole time and has been lying to her. In reality she has no idea where her Dad really is nor has he ever tried to contact them. Rae takes it quite well, considering.
- Mighty Med: Double subverted: Alan Diaz has never met his father. Horace told him it is because his father is a great and powerful superhero with an equally great and powerful enemy, so for Alan's safety, the family can have no contact with him. Alan and Skylar dig up Alan's file and find the man they believe to be his father, Nelson. But when they meet him, he's an odd, slovenly, broke and unemployed Normo. Horace figures out where they went and comes to collect them. Alan, in frustration and determination endangers Nelson, only to hurt him. Then he endangers himself only to have Nelson get badly injured shoving him out of harm's way. Once Horace sends the kids on their way, the truth is revealed: Nelson really is the great hero Horace told Alan he is. Nelson is Clark Kenting. He's covering his heroic physique with bad clothes, and staying in character as an unemployed, weirdo slob who is kind of off-putting, to protect his Secret Identity.
- In Futurama Leela's parents left a note written in an alien language after dropping her off at an Orphanerium (which served as a Rosetta stone for fans since the same language appeared elsewhere in the show and a translation of the note was given) so she (and everyone else) would think that she was a Human Alien rather than a mutant who was lucky enough to be quite close to a baseline human.. This is an odd case of both parents being missing and telling the lie in the hopes of improving the life of the child.
- G.I. Joe: Renegades: Storm Shadow tells Jinx that Snake Eyes killed her father. The odd truth is that Storm Shadow believes it to be true, but it is not. But he convinces Jinx to renounce her connection to Snake Eyes and take up her name as Kim Ashikage.
- In Jonny Quest: "Jonny's Golden Quest" Jessie Jade finds out that the father she'd believed dead all her life is actually Race Bannon, with whom she's been traveling for half the film at this point.
- Gravity Falls: "Blendin's Game" reveals that Soos as a child, for eight years, got post cards from his father with the same message indicating he was too busy to come for his son's birthday but would definitely be there next year. Soos' Abuelita is all too aware that Soos' dad is never returning, but for the sake of her grandson upholds the lie that he wants to come, but can't because he's too busy. Soos figures it out for himself at age 12, and it destroys his birthday for him until Dipper and Mabel fight Grobnar vs. Blendin Blandin to give Soos a time wish so he can see his father and have happy birthdays from the past until their present.