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Ambiguously Absent Parent

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"And by the way, they never do say what he died of, but by look of his incredibly deteriorating health, you know it just had to be broad-shoulder-itis. You know, the same that I'm sure took her mother that doesn't exist."

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 is regularly present. The absent parent may be addressed through Word of God, though in its essence the trope means the story itself 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.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto:
    • Among Naruto's peers, the manga only shows Neji, Shino, Hinata, Ino, and Chouji's fathers, never their mothers. The anime shows the latter three, and specifies Hinata's mother is deceased.
    • In Boruto, Metal Lee is Rock Lee's son, but his mother is unknown.
  • One Piece:
    • We eventually find out Luffy's father is the revolutionary Dragon, and his paternal grandfather is Vice-Admiral Garp. His mother and other grandparents are never mentioned.
    • Likewise, we know who Nico Robin's mother is, but no mention of her father besides a vague sillhouette.
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon: I Choose You!: Verity is the daughter of Cynthia, but her father is never seen nor mentioned.
    • Ambiguously absent parents seem to be the norm for the protagonists for the anime. Ash's father was mentioned once in the second episode, but its famously not elaborated on any further, but that's still more then his friend's parents.
    • No mention of Dawn or Serena's fathers has been made, Lana's father is similarly absent, but was mentioned by Lana once. Clemont and Bonnie's mother isn't mentioned. Neither is Mallow's mother.
  • In the Sailor Moon anime, 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. In the manga, Ami's mother is shown to be a doctor.

    Films - Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast: Belle's mother is never seen and is likely dead.
    • The Beast's situation is similarly confusing. He was apparently an eleven-year-old living alone with his servants when the Enchantress cursed him, so where were his parents? If they're dead, why is he a "prince" instead of a "king?" Does he have a sibling ruling the country, and if so, why haven't they gone looking for their lost younger brother?
  • 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 second sequel does mention her and hints that she's dead, however.)
    • Cinderella's birth mother is never mentioned either.
  • Exaggerated in Frozen. Kristoff is missing both of his parents, but it's never explained. One theory says that the trolls who raised him basically kidnapped him by wiping away his memories of his real parents (which, if you look into Norse mythology, is actually quite plausible).
  • A Goofy Movie: The whereabouts of Max's mother, Goofy's wife, are unknown. She's not even present in a baby picture of Goofy holding their son. The show's creators have declined to comment on the matter.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Charlotte lives with her rich father, but no mention is ever given to her mother.
  • Sing: Where's Johnny's mother? He and his dad certainly aren't going to tell you.
  • In Toy Story, Andy and Molly's father is never seen, and the characters never address this. This was probably done so they could make one less human character model back when doing so would cost a lot of time and money.

    Films - Live-Action 

    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 
  • 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.)
  • 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 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.
  • 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 works of Shakespeare:
    • In King Lear, the mother of 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 (or mothers) 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. As far as spin-offs go, the player character of XD's dad is explicitly said to have died a few years prior.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Tina's father is shown several times, but her mother is unmentioned.
    • Billy is usually seen with his mother Fecility, but the one mention of his father makes it unclear whether his parents live together or share custody and Felicity was just dropping Billy off.
    • Carrie's father turns out to be the Monster of the Week in "The Mirror", but all that's known about her mother is that she's a ghost like Carrie. Whether she lives in Carrie's house (or in the world of the living at all) is unknown.
    • Minor character example: An oval man is seen with his son in many episodes, but the mom is never seen. However, in "The Oracle," the dad is seen along with other dads waiting for their wives.
  • The absence of Huey, Louie, and Dewey's parents is never explained in DuckTales (1987). Most viewers simply assume that the triplets are orphans.
    • In DuckTales (2017), the disappearance of the triplets' mother, Della Duck, is a major plot point. However, Word of God confirms that their father will remain unmentioned, with co-creator Francisco Angones commenting that as far as he's concerned, Donald is their father.
  • Gravity Falls: Wendy's father and three brothers are Recurring Extras, but her mother is unmentioned in the show. In an AMA, the show's creator implied she was dead.
  • In Invader Zim, Dib and Gaz live with their dad, Professor Membrane, but their mother is never mentioned. Word of Saint Paul says that had the show continued, they might have revealed that Dib was actually an Artificial Human created by his father; theoretically this would mean that he doesn't have a mother, but how does Gaz fit in with that?
  • 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 (or at least are gone and never coming back).
  • In Over the Garden Wall, we know that Wirt and Greg are half-brothers, and that their mom is currently married to Greg's dad. All three parents are unseen, but Wirt's dad falls into this trope.
    • Interestingly, we actually hear Wirt's dad in the "For Sara" tape, interacting with a younger Wirt, but his current status is still unknown.
  • 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 characters are occasionally acknowledged to actually be stepbrothers. However, Phineas and Candace's biological father and Ferb's biological mother are never mentioned. All Word of God has said is that Phineas and Candace's father isn't Dr. Doofenshmirtz. In any case, all three of the Flynn-Fletcher siblings appear to be Happily Adopted, with Candace and Phineas happily calling their stepfather "Dad". This is Lampshaded in the (non-canon) two-part special Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars. After years of being a storm trooper, Candace reunites with Phineas, and he tells her their mother has remarried. Candace asks what happened to their father, and the Death Star blows up before Phineas can reply.
  • In Steven Universe, several young residents of Beach City only have one parent accounted for.
    • Peedee and Ronaldo Fryman live with their father, but their mother is never seen nor mentioned. "Joking Victim" had a Deleted Scene where Mr. Fryman compared Peedee to his mother, but even that doesn't specify where she is now.
    • Same applies to Jenny and Kiki Pizza, who live with their father and paternal grandmother.
    • Sadie Miller's overbearing mother Barb is a recurring character, but her father has yet to appear or get any kind of mention. Barb is once called "Miss Miller", suggesting she is a single mother.
    • Buck Dewey's father used to be the mayor of Beach City, but his mother remains unseen and unmentioned.