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:
- Type I: Got the short end of the custodial stick, but genuinely loves their kids and wants to spend time with them despite the restrictions in their custodial arrangement. The physical distance from their kids 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-breakup 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?!
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.
- 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.
- Jingle All the Way: Ted, the next-door neighbor and rival to Howard (The Hero) is (in contrast to Howard being a workaholic that can rarely be there for his kid although he's tried hard to make up for it) The Ace and a perfect father, even having the mind to purchase the much-sought-after Turbo Man doll (that Howard has been suffering hell all day to try to get because it's sold out) months in advance. His son, Johnny, flat-out states that Ted was an equally absent father up until the divorce happened and then he started showering him with gifts and acting like a perfect father (and then he tells Howards's son, Jamie, that it probably would be a good thing if his parents divorce, if that makes Howard do the same). His entire "perfect father" act is both for the sake of being this and so he'll attract women (especially Howard's wife, which he's lusting after).
- Inception: Cobb is a hunted fugitive, and can't get back to his home country to be with his children without getting arrested. He tries to connect with the kids through phone-calls and buying them toys, which he passes to his father (the children's grandfather) when the latter is going back to America. Miles outright tells him that the kids are going to need more than the "occasional stuffed animals" to remember that they still have a father.
- 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. This largely appears to be guilt. When Dawns brother Jeff goes back to live with their father permanently, their mother warns him not to expect living with him to be as nonstop fun as visiting him.
- 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.
- In My Teacher Is an Alien, Peter's dad actually had custody after his mom ran off, but neglected him in favor of work, which contributed to Peter's decision to leave with Broxholm. In the final book, Peter's dad admits (to a disguised Peter) that he wanted to make a lot of money and buy his son's happiness, but now realizes that he drove him away.
- 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.
- Kendall Roy on Succession is a Type II: he has either limited or no custody of his children, but he's so rich, he can rent out an entire amusement park for his daughter's birthday.
- One episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody establishes that the twins' father Kurt is a hard-partying rock star who sets no boundaries at all. Hilarity Ensues when the similarly carefree Zack stows away on his band's tour bus; though Kurt immediately wants to turn back around, his ex-wife Carey convinces him to keep Zack around for a week or so as a Radish Cure.
- 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.
- Pizzazz's rich and busy father Harvey from Jem had full-custody of Pizzazz after his wife walked out. However, he didn't know how to relate to Pizzazz. As a result, Harvey showered Pizzazz with gifts instead of affection. All this did was make Pizzazz grow into a bitter, spoiled Rich Bitch who uses her fans attention as a substitute for love.
- 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 a 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.
- Rocket Power had an episode where Sam's father showed up and took him and his friends to a bunch of fun places, only to repeatedly get sidetracked by work calls. Eventually, he realize his problem and he takes Sam out to spend time with him while ignoring his ringing phone in the back seat.
- 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.