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Ambiguously Absent Parent

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A character's parent is absent, but it is never explained or addressed in canon.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
pidget_spinner on Mar 25th 2018 at 10:06:31 PM
Last Edited By:
pidget_spinner on Apr 11th 2018 at 11:14:45 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

You decide to spend your spring break with your friend Bob. You arrive at Bob's house, where you meet his mother, Alice. Bob and Alice are both very nice, but as the days pass, you notice the absence of Bob's father. They never mention him, there are no pictures around the house, Alice doesn't wear a wedding ring, and one night she mentions a bad date she went on a few weeks ago. You're too scared to ask, so you are left to assume he either died or is otherwise absent. Either way, Bob and his mother don't acknowledge that his father is absent, or that he ever existed to begin with.

This is the ambiguously absent parent. This trope arises when a character has a Disappeared Dad or Missing Mom but the creator doesn't feel like explaining the specifics of their absence. It applies to parents who aren't mentioned or shown and their absence is notable because the other parent almost always exists and may have other romantic relationships. A sub-trope of Parental Abandonment, this trope is occassionally addressed through Word of God, though in it's essence the trope means the characters won't explain it.

A sub-trope of Parental Abandonment and Unknown Character. Contrast with I Miss Mom, where the character acknowledge in-universe said parent, and Mysterious Parent, where the absent parent is an integral part of the story. Compare and contrast to Invisible Parents, where neither parents are seen but may be mentioned, and the audience has no reason to believe they are out of the picture.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Naruto, Metal Lee has one of these. His father is named Rock Lee, but his mother is unknown.
  • One Piece: Luffy has a father named Dragon, and a grandpa named Garp. His mother and grandmother are never mentioned.
  • Pokémon: I Choose You!: Verity is the daughter of Cynthia, but her father is never seen nor mentioned.
  • In Sailor Moon, we don't know the identity of Sailor Mercury's mother. Even when she has to go to the airport to leave for America, her mother isn't there with her and nobody even comments on it.

    Films-Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast: Belle's mother is never seen and is likely dead.
  • The king in Cinderella is an important character in the movie. However, the Prince's mother is never seen or mentioned, nor is she seen in any of the paintings that serve as a timeline of her son's life, though her husband does.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Charlotte lives with her rich father, but no mention is ever given to her mother.
  • In Toy Story, Andy and Molly's father is never seen, and the characters never address this. There are several theories about his whereabouts, but nothing has been confirmed.

    Light Novels 
  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Exaggerated. The Hikigaya siblings suffer of Parent Abandonment, being Hachiman Promoted to Parent to protect his little sister Komachi. Their parents are barely mentioned in the series, but nothing more. Mrs. Hikigaya only appears a little in the volume 3 of the light novel and the @comic manga, in which is seen giving more favours to Komachi instead hachiman, but is stated she loves both. In the anime instead, she doesn't appear at all.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Drake & Josh: The two titular characters are stepbrothers, with Josh's father having married Drake's mother at the beginning of the series. Josh's grandmother also appears as a recurring character. However, no mention is made of Josh's mother or Drake and Megan's father. Even in the flashback of Drake and Josh getting into a fight as children, the absent parents aren't seen while the known ones are.
  • House of Anubis:
    • Amber, Mick, Joy and Victor have all had their fathers appear as characters; however, no mentions of their mothers have been made. With Victor, it's especially strange as we've seen flashbacks to his childhood. His father was present, but his mother was nowhere to be seen, and it's implied his father had full guardianship over both him and Sarah Frobisher-Smythe.
    • Fabian is the only major character who's parents have never been so much as mentioned during the series. While the lack of parents in general is justified due to the show taking place at a boarding school, the absence in his case is notable as he's the only character who's parents had never been confirmed to exist and his only known family are a godfather and an uncle. Naturally, this situation has made for great Fanfic Fuel.
  • iCarly:
    • Carly lives with her older brother, Spencer, acting as her legal guardian. While their dad is mentioned a lot on the show as being in the military, her mother is never mentioned, and Dan Schneider only said that she wasn't confirmed to be dead.
    • Freddie Benson lives with his overbearing and overprotective mother, similar to how Sam is only confirmed to live with her mother; however, unlike Sam, Freddie's father has never been mentioned. All we get is a mention on iCarly.com that his name was "Leonard", and that he almost certainly isn't involved in his life, proven when his mother was dating and planning to marry Spencer in the Christmas special.
  • In Stranger Things, Dustin is seen being raised by a single mother, but his father isn't mentioned. Given that the show is set during the eighties, when divorce rates were at an all-time high, it is safe to assume his parents are divorced.
    • Eleven's biological father could also be interpreted as one of these. Eleven's aunt, Becky, implies that Terry was in college when she got pregnant, so the father of her child was likely one of her classmates. The most likely scenario is that Eleven's biological father either didn't know Terry was pregnant or just didn't care.
    • Max and Billy are step-siblings, with Billy's father being married to Max's mother. Max has said that her dad lives in California and she misses him, but no mention is ever given to Billy's mother, nor what happened to her.
  • In The Brady Bunch, we never learn the fate of the girls' father. Whereas we learn that Mike Brady was a widower in the pilot (and even that is never mentioned again). Word of God has said that she was divorced, but that was too controversial to mention on TV at the time. The second Brady Bunch movie suggested that the girls' father was lost at sea, but that's not considered canon, (and was really more of a shout out to Gilligan's Island, which Sherwood Schwartz also produced.)

    Theatre 
  • In the works of Shakespeare:
    • In King Lear, the mother the the eponymous character's three daughters is never mentioned or seen.
    • Twelfth Night: Viola and Sebastian's father died when they were thirteen, but their mother isn't mentioned. Additionally, Olivia is mourning the death of her father when the play begins, but we don't know what happened to her mother.
    • Hamlet: Ophelia and Laertes' mother is never seen or mentioned, though their father is a major character.
    • Jessica of The Merchant of Venice has a father named Shylock, but her mother is unknown.
    • In Titus Andronicus, Tamora marries Saturninus, but at the start of the play she already has three grown sons with another man who is neither seen nor mentioned. Additionally, no mention is ever given to the mother of Titus's children.

    Video Games 
  • Kirby: Planet Robobot: The Big Bad Pres. Haltmann was mentioned to have a child that was missing in the past due to an accident, and that event made him more driven in his intergalactic business. No mention is ever given to his wife.
  • Mass Effect: Shepard's mother Hannah Shepard is a minor recurring character with the Spacer background, but his/her father is never discussed.
  • Pokémon: In most games the protagonist lives with their mother, but their father receives only vague mentions. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is an exception, where Brendan/May's father Norman works as a Gym Leader and is fought halfway through the game.

    Western Animation 
  • An exaggerated variant occurs in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Both of Applejack's parents are absent and almost never mentioned, leaving their children and the grandma to run the family farm. They've only been seen once, in a flashback. The characters imply that they are dead, and Word of God confirms it.
  • Peppa Pig: Suzie Sheep lives with her mother. However, her father is not present and hasn't been mentioned on screen.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, the two eponymous character are occassionally acknowledged to actually be stepbrothers. However, Phineas and Candace's biological father and Ferb's biological mother are never mentioned. One fan theory said that Dr. Doofenshmirtz was Phineas and Candace's father, but Word of God stated that he wasn't. In any case, all three of the Flynn-Fletcher siblings appear to be Happily Adopted, with Candace and Phineas happily calling their stepfather "Dad".
  • Steven Universe: Peedee and Ronaldo Fryman live with their father, but their mother is never seen nor mentioned. Same applies to Jenny and Kiki Pizza.
    • Sadie Miller's overbearing mother, Barb, has appeared and is friends with Steven's father Greg, but her father has yet to appear or get any kind of mention.
    • Buck Dewey's father is the mayor of Beach City, but his mother remains unseen and unmentioned.


Feedback: 38 replies

Mar 25th 2018 at 11:03:03 PM

  • I Carly:
    • Carly lives with her older brother, Spencer, acting as her legal guardian. While their dad is mentioned a lot on the show as being in the military, her mother is never mentioned, and Dan Schneider only said that she wasn't confirmed to be dead.
    • Freddie Benson lives with his overbearing and overprotective mother, similar to how Sam is only confirmed to live with her mother; however, unlike Sam, Freddie's father had never been mentioned. All we get is a mention on iCarly.com that his name was "Leonard", and that he almost certainly isn't involved in his life, proven when his mother was dating and planning to marry Spencer in the Christmas special.

Mar 26th 2018 at 10:18:25 AM

Peppa Pig. Suzie Sheep lives with her mother. However her father is not present and hasn't been mentioned on screen.

Mar 26th 2018 at 12:22:01 PM

How is this different from Invisible Parents? Because this YKTTW is practically the same thing.

Mar 26th 2018 at 12:33:11 PM

Invisible Parents seems to just be parents who are never shown on screen, but could still be totally relevant in their child's life off-screen. This seems to be parents who aren't mentioned or shown and their absence is notable because the other parent exists and may have other romantic relationships.

Mar 26th 2018 at 6:13:38 PM

I remember asking about this type of trope once and was told that Invisible Parents applies even to parents who aren't discussed.

Mar 26th 2018 at 9:48:45 PM

Just to clarify, War Jay 77 is completely right.

Apr 1st 2018 at 11:28:08 PM

So in this case, the notability of the missing parent lies on the lack of mentions in universe?

I've actually seen this a few times where a child has only one parent mentioned/shown while neglecting the other; it's as if the parent's role (in regards to the child) is to only "be a parent to be relied on" and that one character as a parent is enough (2 characters are harder to write than one)

I may have one example

  • Kirby Planet Robobot: The Big Bad Pres. Haltmann was mentioned to have a child that was missing in the past due to an accident, and that event made him more driven in his intergalactic business. No mention is ever given to his wife.

Apr 1st 2018 at 11:47:24 PM

  • House Of Anubis:
    • Amber's father, Mick's father, and Victor's father have all appeared as characters; however, no mentions of their mothers have been made. With Victor, it's especially strange as we've seen flashbacks to his childhood. His father was present, but his mother was nowhere to be seen, and it's implied his father had full guardianship over both him and Sarah Frobisher-Smythe.
    • Fabian is the only major character who's parents have never been so much as mentioned during the series. While the lack of parents in general is justified due to the show taking place at a boarding school, the absence in his case is notable as he's the only character who's parents had never been confirmed to exist and his only known family are a godfather and an uncle. Naturally, this situation has made for great Fanfic Fuel.

Apr 4th 2018 at 7:07:02 AM

  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Applejack's parents are absent, leaving their children and the grandma to run the family farm. They've only been seen once. In a flashback.

Apr 4th 2018 at 9:44:58 AM

^ I don't think that would count, Bright Mac and Pearbutter have been confirmed deceased.

Apr 4th 2018 at 9:58:05 AM

^ But was it confirmed in canon or Word Of God?

Apr 4th 2018 at 10:06:33 AM

^ I think both, in Canon it was more implicit but Applejack used the term "If mom and dad were here..." and they were represented as two shooting stars passing over head in another episode. And Word Of God did confirm this as well.

Apr 4th 2018 at 10:38:37 AM

Hmm. Do you think I should list it as an exaggerated variant or just not include it?

Apr 4th 2018 at 10:45:00 AM

It's up to you, if you think it'd fit. There is one MLP example that does fit regardless, though.

  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Scootaloo is the only one of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and main characters in general, whose parents have yet to be shown on screen in any form. The implication is that her parents exist, but she has a rocky relationship with them, thus clinging to Rainbow Dash as her family substitute.

Apr 4th 2018 at 11:24:20 AM

^ Yeah, I guess it is. Whoops.

Apr 4th 2018 at 4:35:20 PM

Subtrope of Unknown Character (because one of their parents has to exist for the conception to be possible in the first place, they just aren't mentioned)

Apr 7th 2018 at 3:28:13 PM

Video Games:

  • Mass Effect: Shepard's mother Hannah Shepard is a minor recurring character with the Spacer background, but his/her father is never discussed.

Apr 7th 2018 at 5:48:36 PM

  • One Piece: Luffy has a father named Dragon, and a grandpa named Garp. His (grand) mother(s) are never mentioned.

Apr 7th 2018 at 10:31:56 PM

^Again, this trope applies to parents who are almost certainly absent from their child's life, while Invisible Parents merely exist off-screen.

Apr 8th 2018 at 4:13:38 PM

^ That's what I said. Invisible Parents is the current trope for all parents who aren't explicitly Disappeared Dads or Missing Moms.

Apr 8th 2018 at 4:17:28 PM

This neans some of Invinsible Parents' examples actually belong here.

Apr 8th 2018 at 5:13:20 PM

I'll look at that article for more examples^

Apr 8th 2018 at 5:33:49 PM

  • Pokemon: In most games the protagonist lives with their mother, but their father receives only vague mentions. Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire is an exception, where Brendan/May's father Norman works as a Gym Leader and is fought halfway through the game.

Apr 8th 2018 at 7:24:29 PM

In The Brady Bunch, we never learn the fate of the girls' father. Whereas we learn that Mike Brady was a widower in the pilot (and even that is never mentioned again). The producer has said that she was divorced, but that was too controversial to mention on TV at the time. The second Brady Bunch movie suggested that the girls' father was lost at sea, but that's not considered canon, (and was really more of a shout out to Gilligan's Island, which Sherwood Schwartz also produced.)

Apr 9th 2018 at 7:16:59 AM

From Invisible Parents:

  • In Love Hina many of the residents of the Hinata House's parents seem to be completely absent. Keitaro's parents are never seen in either the manga or anime. Naru's and Shinobu's parents are seen in the anime, but not the manga. Kitsune, Motoko, and Suu's parents are also nowhere to be found.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima, out of all the 3-A students, we only see the fathers of Yuuna and Konoka. The former has her dead mother appearing in flashbacks, but that's it. Evangeline and Misora are stated to be orphans, Hakase and Chao might count as Chachamaru's co-mothers, Sayo's parents most likely died decades ago, and Asuna's past is so obscure it's unknown if she ever actually had parents in the strict sense of the word.
  • Naruto:
    • Several characters' parents are never shown: Rock Lee's parents (if he even has any!), Tenten's parents (assuming she isn't orphaned), and the mothers of Neji, Choji, Ino, and Shino (though we see Ino's and Chouji's in the anime; Hinata's was also shown in the anime but is explicitly a Posthumous Character).
    • All the parents of the Konoha 12's children are known... Except for Metal Lee's. His father is Rock Lee however his mother is unknown. Apparently Kishimoto didn't bother to Pair The Spares with Rock Lee or create an original character for him to marry. It's never mentioned if his wife is off-screen or deceased.
The protagonists' parents in Pokemon Adventures rarely have visible parents, except in the Ruby & Sapphire arc. Red has never even mentioned his, which is odd considering his game counterpart has a prominent mother (and invisible father) who appears in the original games and its sequel. For Blue and Silver, this is justified due to being kidnapped as children, with Silver having amnesia of who his parents are. For everyone else, there's little justification as to why their parents are left unseen.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, only Madoka's parents are ever seen. While a couple of the girls are later confirmed to be orphans, the parents of the rest simply never show up.

  • Sailor Moon:
  • Pokemon:
    • Out of Ash's rivals and travelling companions, only a handful have their parents shown on-screen.
    • Verity from Pokemon I Choose You is Cynthia's daughter. No mention is made of her father.

  • Super Mario Bros:
    • Mario and Luigi's parents. They are mentioned but almost never seen.
    • Early English media and manuals mention a "Mushroom King" however, aside from a few references, he is never alluded to in the games. It's left vague if Peach has living parents however her still being a princess implies such. As far as its been shown, Peach is the sole ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom.
    • Bowser Jr presumably has a Missing Mom considering that Bowser is so set on Peach. The Koopalings have no known parents whatsoever. They were originally Bowser's children but have since been retconned as unrelated.

  • Most of the characters in the Sonic The Hedgehog game series have no parents (or any relatives at all, for that matter) - which makes it especially weird whenever a character with parents, like Cream and her mother Vanilla, shows up. Some characters like Knuckles (last of his species and thus his parents are dead) and Shadow (has no parents) have excuses, but characters like Tails and Amy just live alone despite being eight and twelve respectively.

  • Tiifu and Zuri are two of Kiara's friends in The Lion Guard. Their mothers have yet to be seen. It's never explained if they're from Simba's pride or not, though they certainly weren't present in The Lion King II Simbas Pride.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Cadance is Celestia's niece. Celestia's sister Luna was stuck on the moon until just recently. So, assuming Cadance is not Really Seven Hundred Years Old, who are Cadance's parents? Turns out she's Celestia's adopted niece. Whatever happened to her biological parents is never mentioned.

Apr 9th 2018 at 9:32:45 AM

^Most of those only apply to Invisible Parents, but some can fit here

Apr 9th 2018 at 11:36:28 AM

^ How do you tell the difference? There's a lot of overlap.

Apr 9th 2018 at 12:03:56 PM

  • Drake And Josh: The two titular characters are stepbrothers, with Josh's father having married Drake's mother at the beginning of the series. Josh's grandmother also appears as a recurring character. However, no mention is made of Josh's mother or Drake and Megan's father. Even in the flashback of Drake and Josh getting into a fight as children, the absent parents aren't seen while the known ones are.

Apr 9th 2018 at 12:07:21 PM

Also, slight edit to this one from before:

  • Amber, Mick, Joy and Victor have all had their fathers appear as characters; however, no mentions of their mothers have been made. With Victor, it's especially strange as we've seen flashbacks to his childhood. His father was present, but his mother was nowhere to be seen, and it's implied his father had full guardianship over both him and Sarah Frobisher-Smythe.

Apr 9th 2018 at 8:13:22 PM

Seconding Pichu-kun's question: How do you tell the difference between this and Invisible Parents?

Apr 9th 2018 at 10:42:30 PM

With Invisible Parents, it usually means that parents rarely appear on screen, if ever. However, it usually applies to both parents, and the audience has no reason to believe they aren't a big part of their child's life, and the parents may be mentioned. With this trope, only one parent is present (or occasionally some other guardian) and is almost certainly a single parent, though the absence of the other parent is never addressed.

Apr 10th 2018 at 9:17:14 PM

^ Then how are most of the previous examples not this? There's technically no proof they aren't orphans.

Apr 10th 2018 at 10:41:04 PM

For my YKTTW, the existing parent is implied to be a single parent.

Apr 11th 2018 at 7:04:42 AM

Light Novels:

  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Hikigaya siblings suffer of Parent Abandonment, being Hachiman Promoted To Parent to protect his little sister Komachi. Their parents are barely mentioned in the series, but nothing more. Mrs. Hikigaya only appears a little in the volume 3 of the light novel and the @comic manga, in which is seen giving more favours to Komachi instead hachiman, but is stated she loves both. In the anime instead, she doesn't appear at all.

Apr 11th 2018 at 10:28:27 AM

Steven Universe also has Buck, whose mother's absence has yet to be explained. I think Lars is the only known Beach city citizen who has both parents. Sour Cream has a different father to Onion (Marty) but they did a whole episode about that. Connie also has both parents, but I'm not sure if she lives in Beach City or not. Either way, you'd think we'd learn more about why the Fryman, Pizza, and Dewey family's mothers are not there, since the main character has an absent mother himself.

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