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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.

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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.

Often a source of Fanfic Fuel. 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. May be the result of Never Say "Die". May overlap with Nephewism and Raised by Grandparents.

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Note: Do not add examples if the character's existing caretaker is NOT implied to be single. This trope only applies to cases where the audience has every reason to assume that the parent is NOT a part of their child's life offscreen, not just "one parent is shown but not the other". Also, do not add examples without context.


Examples of One Ambiguously Absent Parent

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Riza Hawkeye's mother in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is absent from her life by the time her mentally-unstable father dies when she's a young adult, but when and how her mother left her life is unknown.
  • In Girls und Panzer, while Miho and Maho's mother, Shiho, is shown from time to time, her father is never mentioned.
  • 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 silhouette. His absence means that Robin has to stay with her mother's brother and sister-in-law while her mother's away, despite the fact that her aunt does not want Robin around.
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon: I Choose You!: Verity is maybe the daughter of Cynthia, but her father is never seen nor mentioned.
    • Ambiguously absent parents are something of the norm for the protagonists for the anime. Ash's father was mentioned once in the second episode, which was infamously not elaborated on any further, but that's still more then many of his friend's parents. No mention of Dawn or Serena's fathers has been made. Clemont and Bonnie's mother isn't brought up. Misty, as well as Cilan and Iris, has neither parental figure ever mentioned. Mallow's mother was thought to be this as well, until it was revealed much later on that she had died years earlier and Mallow didn't like talking about it.
  • Your Name: Taki is shown to be living with his father, but his Missing Mom is never depicted or even mentioned. There is all of one vague reference in supplementary material of him having to learn to get used to staying with the father, but what that means and why is never explained.

    Films - Animated 
  • The absence of Belle's mother is never brought up in Beauty and the Beast.
  • 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.)
  • 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 Land Before Time: Petrie's father is never seen or mentioned.
  • 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. Meena's father is also never seen or mentioned.
  • 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. Word of God has actually commented on the subtext that this adds, however: without a father figure in his life, Andy instead gravitates to two contrasting masculine archetypes in Woody and Buzz.
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    Films - Live-Action 
  • Erik from Black Panther is eventually revealed to be the child of T'Challa's uncle after he fell in love with an American woman. After the death of his father, Erik was completely alone, but no one mentions why his mom couldn't be there to raise him. Word of God says she was jailed early on.
  • Played straight twice in A Diva's Christmas Carol: Ebony's mother's fate isn't mentioned, same with the mother of her brother Ronnie's daughter Olivia after her birth.
  • In The Jungle Book (2016), Mowgli's father was killed by Shere Khan when he was an infant, but whatever happened to his mother is unknown.

    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.)
  • Orla's dad in Derry Girls. Her ma is single (she has a thing with the man working at the instant photo printing shop in one episode) but Orla's dad is never mentioned at all.
  • 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.
  • In Friends, Emily's mother is never brought up despite the fact that her father is explicitly remarried. She is not shown at Emily and Ross's wedding, and the closest thing she gets to a mention is when Ross says the building he and Emily and getting married in is the same one Emily's parents were married in— and even that could just be referring to her father and his current wife.
  • In the third season of The Good Place, Eleanor finds out her mother is actually alive and now lives in Nevada under a new name with her boyfriend Dave and his nine-year-old daughter, Patricia. It's never explained why Patricia's mother doesn't seem to be a part of her daughter's life.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is not brought up. 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.

    Theatre 
  • In the works of Shakespeare:
    • Hamlet: Ophelia and Laertes' mother is never seen or mentioned, though their father is a major character.
    • In King Lear, the mother of the eponymous character's three daughters is never mentioned or seen.
    • 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.
    • 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.

    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 Chan and the Chan Clan portrays Charlie Chan as the father of ten children. Neither a mother nor adoption are ever mentioned.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Tina's father is shown several times, but her mother is unmentioned.
    • Billy is usually seen with his mother Felicity, 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 her mother is rarely talked about; In "The Drama", her voice is heard from behind a grave in the cemetery.
    • Hector's father was mentioned once, but is never shown around the cave Hector and his mother live in. That one mention describes him as a giant even larger than Hector; it's possible he's just too large to live anywhere nearby.
    • 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.
  • In DuckTales (2017), the disappearance of the triplets' mother, Della Duck, is a major plot point, but their father is still not mentioned. Word of God confirms he will remain so for the time being, with co-creator Francisco Angones saying that they will be dealing with "one parental mystery at a time" and commenting that as far as he's concerned, Uncle Donald is their father. For the record, the triplets imply in an offhand mention early in the original comics that their father is a deadbeat.
  • In Elena of Avalor, Mateo has a mother, but his father is absent. Word of God is that he isn't important to the story and will never be brought up.
  • In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Mac's father is absent and unmentionednote ; Word of God says he's dead.
  • 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.
    • Soos's maternal grandmother is implied to have raised him, and his father left him when he was four, only sending occasional postcards from that point on. The whereabouts of Soos's mother, however, are never brought up. Given that young Soos dreams of his father returning but not his mother, she is probably dead.
  • The titular character of Hilda is explicitly the daughter of a single mother, but no mention is ever given to her father or his whereabouts.
  • 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?
  • Legends of Chima: Laval is the son of King Lagravis, but there is no mention of his mother the queen.
  • The Lion Guard: Muhimu has a son Hamu who became born in "The Mbali Fields Migration", but her mate is never shown. The same goes for Twiga, who has a daughter Juhudi.
  • 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 it's unknown if Wirt's father is deceased or simply divorced from Wirt's mother. 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 stepbrothers, with Phineas and Candace's mother Linda being married to Ferb's father Lawrence. 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, which was a fairly popular fan theory. In any case, all three of the Flynn-Fletcher siblings appear to be Happily Adopted, with Candace and Phineas happily calling their stepfather "Dad"note . 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, who introduces Ferb and explains their mother has remarried. Candace asks what happened to their father, and the Death Star blows up before Phineas can reply.
  • Rick and Morty: The whereabouts of Beth’s mother have not been given a proper explanation. Rick has implied that his marriage to her was not stable, and that they did separate before his disappearance. Beth sheds a tear in "Pilot" when Rick tells her that he wishes her mother was present to eat the family’s breakfast, but it is never confirmed if Beth’s mother is actually dead. In “The Rickshank Redemption”, Rick is shown a memory in which a woman named Diane is his wife as well as Beth’s mother, and she is killed in it; however, this specific memory was fabricated by Rick to fool his interrogator, so Diane may not even have existed. The cover artist for the comic book adaptation has created a character named “Bonnie Sinclair”, who fills the role of Beth's mother in several illustrations, but it is not known if she will ever appear on the show.
  • In Scooby-Doo, Fred was the only one out of the Gang whose parents were never seen by A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, though other family members like uncles and cousins have been brought up. What's New, Scooby-Doo? introduces them in the Pirates Ahoy! movie, which shows them to be perfectly normal, if somewhat eccentric. On the other hand, the optional prequel shows Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! have some fun with this, where Fred's parents are presumably estranged from him when he leaves with the Gang at the end in the former and Fred being implied to have been raised by his mother while his father was in jail. Nowadays, Scooby-Doo likes to use whoever was established as the Gang's parents first (such as Daphne's parents being the ones from the original shows instead of the newer Mystery Incorporated or Velma's parents being the ones from Mystery Incorporated because there was nothing to use about them in A Pup), so the precedent of Fred having issues with his parents probably stems from them never appearing in the original shows.
  • 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.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Kimiko's father appears, but her mother was never seen or mentioned, not even in the episode where the boys visit her house, so it's unknown what happened to her.

Examples of the Ambiguously Orphaned

    Films — Animated 
  • In Beauty and the Beast, the Beast's family situation is unknown. 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?
  • Frozen has Kristoff missing both of his parents, but it's never explained.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Light Novels 
  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: The Hikigaya siblings suffer from Parental 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 manga, in which is seen giving more favors to Komachi instead of Hachiman, but is stated she loves both. In the anime instead, she doesn't appear at all.

    Western Animation 
  • The absence of Huey, Louie, and Dewey's parents is never explained in DuckTales (1987). Most viewers simply assume that the triplets are orphans.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • Webby is known to have been raised by her grandmother for most of her life, possibly since she was hatched. However, it is unknown when or how she lost her parents.
    • Though the first episode gives names and shows photographs of Donald and Della's parents, all flashbacks show them living with their Uncle Scrooge. It's unclear if Scrooge raised them (or why), or just spent a lot of time with them.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends never mentioned either of Frankie's parents. Her presence in the house photos led some fans to believe that she was raised by Madame Foster, but Word of God says that that's not the case, and both parents were alive during the course of the show.
  • As official sources for Voltron: Legendary Defender put Shiro’s age at 25, one would expect his parents not to be as important as the younger paladins’, but after eight seasons of the others missing their families, tracking down long lost relatives, and having tearful reunions, his family is becoming conspicuous by its complete and total absence. Even Coran gets a grandfather!


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