Adrien: My dad's flaking, isn't he? Let me guess, something came up?
Natalie: Yes, but he has reserved the best seats in the house for you Adrien. Front row.
Adrien: As usual, the best money can buy.
A non-custodial or limited-custodial parent who tends to take their offspring somewhere spectacular and do expensive stuff to earn or show affection. Disneyland Dad doesn't spend time with his kids, so he spends money on them instead.
When parents divorce, it's understood that one parent will move out of the family home. The parent that leaves generally will see a drastic reduction in how often they get to see their children, which may or may not be because of limited visitation rights. This trope can also apply to parents who were never married and have chosen to go their separate ways, but still have children as a result of their relationship.
Generally, there are two types of Disneyland Dads, as well as a more rare third type:
- Type I: Got the short end of the custodial stick, but genuinely loves their kids and wants to spend time with them despite the custodial parent's dislike of them. This is emotionally taxing for them, and when they do have their children, they want the experience to be as memorable as possible to make up for their inability to spend more time together. How to show the kids Dad loves them? Take them to the most magical place on Earth!
- Type II: Doesn't get to see the kids often and that's fine. After all, they have a career or post-break up personal life to focus on. However, even parents who are cool with not seeing their kids every day, or even every month, periodically get a paternal or maternal inkling and feel obligated to go pick up the kids for visit. But what to do with them? What are the kids even into nowadays? Don't know? Take 'em to Disneyland! What kid can resist Disneyland?!
- Type III: Rare in fiction, but anyone who works in family law will tell you that it is infuriatingly common. The non-custodial parent doesn't like the custodial parent at all and is likely still pissed about getting the short end of the stick in the divorce, so they feel like the least that they can do is to use the kids to get a leg up on them. Spoiling them rotten, giving them free reign, deliberately failing to follow through with punishments that the custodial parent has instituted - if it's going to make them look like the fun parent and the custodial parent a boring disciplinarian, they'll do it.
While the kids may love this or think it's incredibly lame, depending on age and disposition, the point of the outing is for the non-custodial parent and kids to be able to spend time together with minimal preparation, restrictions, or discipline, often allowing this parent to be seen as the "fun parent."
This style of parenting can backfire, possibly resulting in a "The Reason You Suck" Speech by the primary custodial parent, who's tired of looking like the boring, bad guy for enforcing the rules on an everyday basis, or the offspring finally tiring of the elaborate but sporadic outings and making it clear that their affection can't be bought. In real life, this can absolutely be treated as parental alienation, and this can result in a contempt finding if it's particularly egregious or the parent has continued to do it after having already been told to knock it off by the judge.
- While he's not actually a parent, Scrooge McDuck tries to use his wealth to outdo Donald Duck and win over the affection of his orphaned nephews, Huey, Duey, and Lewey in some early Carl Barks stories.
- Before he went completely off the deep end, Norman Osborn occasionally tried to act like this to his son Harry. Harry, being a teenager, doesn't really buy it.
- Jack Drake, father of Tim (Robin), would occasionally try to bring Tim along on cool excursions, bought him expensive camera equipment and paid for him to attend the best (boarding) schools in Gotham growing up. Jack almost always canceled plans with Tim, though he's known to have brought Tim to the opera and circus, and Tim's mother Janet was involved in all the plans that didn't fall through.
- Chef!: Carl is so engrossed in his work as a restaurant chef, he mostly ignores his kid, Percy, even though said son is interested in his job and wants to see the kitchen for himself. When the two get a single day off together, it's summed up in two brief shots of them on a rollercoaster, at a movie, and then Carl having driven Percy right back home.
- Robin Williams is like this at the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire; it causes his divorce and initiates the plot of the film.
- In The Babysitters Club, Dawn refers to her father almost by trope name (particularly in the opening chapters of The Ghost at Dawn's House), saying that while he always seems to be arranging fun things for her and her brother to do when they visit him in California (such as visiting Disneyland), it doesn't feel like having a "real" father.
- In Alyssa Brugman's Young Adult novel Being Bindy, the protagonist Bindy's mother acts like this, constantly taking her out on trips during visits every second weekend (which is how often she sees her mother). She resents it, feeling like her mother is trying to "make up" for not seeing her often.
- Barney Miller: Recurring character Mr. Driscoll, who in the backstory had divorced his wife after he realized he was gay, comes to the squad to ask for help when his ex-wife refuses to let him see their son any more. The ex-wife complains that Driscoll is exposing their son to bad influences including his Camp Gay lover Marty, but it turns out that she just wants him to stop spoiling their son by taking him out to Broadway shows and fine dining restaurants when she can't compete with that kind of monetary outlay and has to be the bad guy and make the son do boring things like homework.
Ms. Driscoll: Could you just be less exciting? Say 'no' once in a while!
- In Better Off Ted Ted complains that his ex-wife lets Rose run wild when staying with her, and that he has to be the responsible one because he's "an actual parent, not Willy Wonka."
Ted: Really, sweetie? Ice cream for breakfast? No, you're right, I don't let you do that. You know what I do let you do? Get vaccinated.
- Parodied in one episode of The Big Bang Theory, where the post-breakup Penny and Leonard act like divorced parents with Sheldon "playing" the child. And yes, Penny takes Sheldon to Disneyland, though she claims it was originally an outing with her coworkers and Sheldon invited himself.
- Castle. The title character's ex-wife Meredith, Alexis' mother, actually makes Castle look like the responsible parent. Apparently she once dropped by Alexis' school to take her to Paris on a whim. Alexis, fortunately, is more responsible than either of her parents and basically sets the rules for herself.
- In the first season of Dexter, Rita's ex-husband, Paul, gets out of prison to find his ex-wife and children living with another man. Because of legal issues surrounding domestic violence against Rita, Paul is only allowed weekly court-supervised visits with his children so he tries to make their time together as fun as possible. It's both because he genuinely loves his children and is bothered by them possibly considering Dexter, who they interact with every day, a father figure.
- L.A. Law contains a rare double example. When Arnie Becker's parents separate, they each try to outdo the other with extravagant gifts trying to buy his affection. Finally he has had enough.
Arnie Becker: I am 42 years old and neither one of you is going to get custody!
- Don Draper in Mad Men. He's pretty much an absentee father after he divorces his wife, Betty, but he periodically picks his kids up for visits into the city, which is practically magical to kids raised in the suburbs, and actually takes them to Disney Land in California.
- Javier Delgado, Gloria's ex-husband in Modern Family. Whenever he appears, he showers Manny with expensive gifts, which greatly annoys Gloria, who had to eke out a living alone with her son after the divorce.
- In The Office (US), divorced dad and Butt-Monkey Toby Flenderson trying to buy that year's hottest doll for his daughter, specifically so that he could look better than his ex-wife for once. It doesn't work very well.
- Deconstructed for laughs in an episode of Seinfeld when his retired parents, giddy with life in their retirement community, splurge by buying Jerry a Cadillac. Since Jerry is an adult who resents the implication that he's not doing well, and since he lives in New York City and doesn't want to pay exorbitant insurance and parking fees, the gift is more of an annoyance than a treat.
- One episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody establishes that the twins' father is a crazy rock star who sets no boundaries at all.
- Gabriel Agreste from Miraculous Ladybug is an Ice King Control Freak that has Adrien's entire life planned out in a calculated desire to protect him from the world. Due to his job as fashion mogul and his excursions as Hawk Moth, Gabriel could not actually be there for him and instead compensates using his vast fortune to keep his son happy and complacent with any material thing he wants. It doesn't, but still it's the thought that counts.
- Tino's dad in The Weekenders. All Tino wants to do is spend time alone with his dad, but his dad keeps taking him to various attractions and talking with other people.
- Arthur's best friend Buster has a father who only appears to take him on trips, except for the Father's Day episode "1001 Dads." Arthur feels guilty that Buster's parents are divorced, so he tries to have other men step in to play the role of surrogate father to Buster. Come the day of Elwood City's Father's Day picnic, it turns out Buster's dad has rented a hot air balloon for the afternoon, enabling everyone at the picnic to have free rides.