Leaving just a memory
A snapshot in the family album
Daddy, what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what'd you leave behind for me?
To put it simply, a main character's Disappeared Dad or occasionally Missing Mom or occasionally even both is absent because they are off fighting in a war. When this trope appears in realistic fiction, it's usually used as an excuse for the parent to be out of the picture without actually being dead, but in adventure stories it's more likely to be an integral part of the story. In historical fiction, said war is likely one of the World Wars.
A sub-trope of Parental Abandonment. If the parent returns safe and sound, this may result in Dad the Veteran. Often overlaps with Keep the Home Fires Burning, but is different because the main plot focuses on the heroes having their own adventures while the parent is (usually) less important.
Compare and contrast My Girl Back Home, which is from the point of view of the soldier missing their partner at home.
- Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Both of Kanna's parents are chaos-aligned dragons that take part in the war against the harmony faction. As a result, they usually left her to her own devices and are incredibly neglectful. Her father Kimun doesn't even seem to be able to grasp the concept of a father-daughter bond, instead referring to her as a comrade (note that Kanna isn't even aligned with the chaos faction, or any faction for that matter).
- Played for Drama in your move, instigator (draw your weapon and hold your tongue): Sakura's parents naturally opposed the idea of their four-year-old daughter being put through training and rushed to the front lines as a Child Soldier. So Mebuki and Kizashi are sent on a variety of missions to keep them out of Konoha and ensure they can't interfere. Mebuki is utterly heartbroken when she's reunited with Sakura during Operation Kumo Crush, reaming out Inoichi and pointing out that his own daughter is the same age as Sakura, but is getting to grow up safe and sheltered due to being a clan heiress while he brings others out as Cannon Fodder.
- Jojo Rabbit features a variant: Jojo's dad is fighting in the war, but for La Résistance.
- In A Little Princess (1995), Sara starts attending the boarding school due to her father's enlistment and she eventually receives news that he died in the Great War. The news of her father's death causes the matron of the school to turn Sara into a servant since her tuition is no longer being paid and there's no one to stop her.
- The Others (2001): Grace's husband is absent because he's been fighting in World War II, so she's left to raise her two children by herself. He eventually reappears and spends the night before telling her that he has to "move on" and leaves just as abruptly. This is because everyone is a ghost. He died in the war, while his wife killed herself and their children but is suffering from Ghost Amnesia.
- One of the illustrated short stories in Edward Gorey's book Amphigorey is "The Hapless Child." The child is named Charlotte Sophia, and her father is a colonel in the British Army. He is reported to have been killed in action aboard, upon which Charlotte's mother falls into a "decline" that proves fatal. Now parentless, Charlotte Sophia is remanded to an orphanage, where her life goes From Bad to Worse.
- Camp X: George and Jack's father is currently stationed in Africa in the St. Patrick's Regiment, the book being set during World War II and all.
- In The Chronicles of Narnia, the father of the four main characters is absent due to fighting in World War 2.
- Jacky Ha Ha: Jacky's mother is serving in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield.
- The Land Mine: Derek's father is off in North Africa fighting against the forces of Erwin Rommel.
- In Little Women, the girls' father is away serving as a chaplain in the American Civil War.
- Friday Night Lights: Matt Saracen lives with his dementia-stricken grandmother, Lorraine, while his father, Henry, is deployed in Iraq. It's clear that this has been the arrangement for most of Matt's life. Several times throughout the series we see Matt go to school early to use the school computers and web cams to talk to his dad and this seems to be all the contact he has with either of his parents. As Grandma Saracen's dementia gets worse, Matt begs Henry to come home, but his dad insists that he can't abandon his duties as a soldier. When an incident calls into question Lorraine's ability to continue as Matt's guardian, Henry has to come home to deal with it as Matt has no other family, his mom having abandoned him as a baby. When Henry arrives home, it's clear that he doesn't want to be there and would rather be at war than dealing with his crumbling family. Matt, seeing that his father is miserable, gives him the go ahead to return. When Henry is eventually killed by an IED, Matt has a break down struggling to understand why his father would rather die at war than deal with his teenaged son and elderly mother.
- In iCarly, Spencer and Carly's father is rarely seen due to the fact that he's in the Air Force.
- Pink's earliest years in The Wall were spent without a father due to him fighting in World War II. Pink's father would not return home due to being killed in action, leaving Pink with only an overbearing mother to take care of him and the first brick in the wall that he begins to build between himself and the world.
- Mega Man Battle Network: Baryl's father was a soldier who fought in foreign countries, so he had to entrust his son to his friend, Dr. Wily. Eventually, Baryl's father died during one of those wars, which sparks Wily's grudge against society and also influences Baryl himself to a degree.
- In Stardew Valley, Sam and Vince's father Kent is absent from town for the first year. He arrives at the beginning of Year 2 and is revealed to be a soldier who spent the last year as a POW in the Gotoro Empire.
- In Archer, Sterling Archer spent much of his childhood being reared by Woodhouse because his mother was still an active black-ops field agent.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara's and Sokka's father, Hakoda, has been fighting in the Hundred-Year War for the two years before the start of the story.
- DuckTales (1987): In the first episode, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are sent to live with their great-uncle, Scrooge McDuck, after their former guardian, their uncle Donald Duck, leaves for the navy.
- In a Christmas story of Pocoyo in Season 4, it's shown the Origin Story of the Angry Alien, whose father all Christmas left him alone with his presents to went to the war (implied, in the series is said he went to a "mission"), being Dad the Veteran. That solitude with his toys made him evil and the antagonist he is in the series (in the same episode, he comes back to Pocoyo's world to ruin Christmas by destroying the presents).
- In The Simpsons episode "The Fight Before Christmas", Lisa dreams that it's WWII, and she asks Bart how they can celebrate Christmas when one of their parents is fighting the war. This turns out to be Marge — Homer was rejected because there wasn't a uniform that could fit him, and is working in a munitions factory.