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Mysterious Parent

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When the reason for Parental Abandonment of a character is revealed, and the parent is someone important to the world of the story, or at least the events. Occasionally alluded to constantly but vaguely for maximum surprise. This is often coupled with some startling revelation about the child too, such as if the parent was/is a scientist and the child was created in a lab experiment, or are following in a Secret Legacy of the family; if the parent is/was royalty, may result in a Really Royalty Reveal.

In anime, said parent is usually the same sex as the child.

This trope can also apply to more distant relatives or siblings, although their existence isn't as intuitive.

Interestingly, real-life relationships can be just as tortuous and surprising as the fictional ones; for a famous example, Jack Nicholson learned just days before the premiere of Chinatown that his recently deceased "sister" was in fact his natural mother, and that the parents who raised him were in fact his grandparents (similar switches occurred in other people's lives, such as singer Bobby Darin).

Compare with Luke, I Am Your Father. Also compare Chekhov M.I.A., when the missing person actually shows up in the flesh, and Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe, which is one reason why the parent is more likely to be the father than the mother. Subtrope of Mysterious Stranger.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Suzuhara Shuuko in Angelic Layer is Misaki's long-gone mother, "busy with work" and defending her title as Angelic Layer champion. This is a spoiler for the manga, but is revealed early in the anime.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Historia Reiss's father is a nobleman that had an affair with a servant. Rod Reiss is actually the true King of the Walls, ruling from the shadows. After his death, Historia reveals herself to the public and is crowned Queen.
    • Eren's father Grisha vanished after the fall of Shinganshina. It is revealed that Grisha was the Attack Titan, who massacred the Reiss Family and stole the Founding Titan. He then titanized Eren and fed himself to his son to transfer the Attack and Founding Titans to him. It is further revealed that Grisha was originally from Marley, a nation outside the Walls.
  • Masaru's Disappeared Dad in Digimon Data Squad, Daimon Suguru, is second only to Hitlermo -- er, Kurata on the list of "Characters Most Instrumental in Driving the Plot." Li Jiang-Yu from Digimon Tamers may count — very important to the backstory and, eventually, the plot, but not very mysterious and definitely not missing.
  • Renton's father in Eureka Seven is revealed to be more and more involved in the main plot as the story moves on.
  • Van Hohenheim from Fullmetal Alchemist. It's initially presented as Parental Abandonment, since that's how his children see it. However, the real reason for his leaving is because he's a human philosopher's stone whose blood was used to create the Big Bad Father, who then used Hohenheim as an Unwitting Pawn to destroy the kingdom of Xerxes. Hohenheim is filled with guilt, and plans to stop Father from doing the same to Amestris; this was half of the reason he left home. The other half was to somehow find a way in which he could live out a normal lifespan and die at the end of it, so he wouldn't outlive his beloved wife and their sons. (He sorts fulfills this when he dies at the end of the manga, having outlived Trisha but not Ed and Al.).
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) the details of the Elric brothers' father's disappearance is changed; Hohenheim "Elric" is the former husband of the Big Bad Dante, and helped create several of the Homunculi. He left so that his decaying body would not be noticed.
  • Ahryung's mother in Gwisin Byeolgok, a powerful shaman who for some reason sold her child's soul and body to Nachal.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Negi is looking for his father, the famous wizard Nagi who disappeared when Negi was a baby. However, Negi never bothered to ask anything about his mother until he finds out she was the last queen of the oldest royal family of the Magic World. She was unjustly accused of a crime, and those in the know didn't want Negi going off half-cocked to defend her reputation, so they didn't tell him about her at all. Negi's connection to his mother becomes even more relevant due it making him the descendant of a Physical God.
  • One Piece:
    • The main character Monkey D. Luffy's father is Dragon the Revolutionary, the most wanted criminal in the world and the only one actively trying to bring down the World Government.
    • Also Portgas D. Ace whose father was Gold Roger, not Dragon as previously believed. Garp adopted him, he goes by his mother's name, and he doesn't like his father because all the grief his heritage caused him, knowing that in the eyes of the world, he wasn't supposed to exist.
  • Rumors flew during the first half of the Pokémon: The Original Series' run that Ash's father was really Team Rocket's leader, Giovanni. This was discredited by canon in the updated remakes of the original games. A scientist at the end of the Rocket Warehouse mistook the main character (including the new female variation) for Giovanni's child, but then corrected himself, stating that said child has red hair. This seems to match the description of the rival from Gold, Silver, and Crystal.
    • Their remakes confirm this. A flashback sequence shows the second generation rival (Silver) talking to his dad, Giovanni.
  • Haru's father, Gale Glory, from Rave Master. He helped found Demon Card and when he tried to stop them, he had a Dark Bring shoved in his forehead that would mature into a powerful explosive. Obviously, he couldn't go back to his children for their own safety.
  • Ken "The Eagle" Washio's Disappeared Dad in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, also known as Red Impulse.
  • For much of the run time of Star Driver, the only things we knew about Takuto's father were that he's somewhere on Southern Cross Island, a painter and that his name starts with R. The more episodes pass, the more it becomes clear that the only character who seemed to possess most of these features is a Red Herring and Takuto's actual dad is Head, the Big Bad, who for some reason looks much younger than he actually is. In fact, if one rewatches everything with this knowledge in mind, it becomes clear that subtle hints at Takuto's father's identity have been dropped ever since the very first episode.

  • Batgirl was taken from her parents as a child by an assassin, who trained her to be the ultimate killer. As the series progresses, she learns that she wasn't taken at all. The assassin who raised her is her real father. In addition, the final arc of the series has her trying to discover the identity of her mother, and learning that she's her longtime Arch-Enemy Lady Shiva.
  • Shutter: Kate's father Chris is a mystery, with his many deals and war orphans.
  • In Teen Titans, Raven's mother stayed away from her until she was about ten years old. Since her Father is an inter-dimensional Demon, he doesn't show up until he's ready to use Raven as a portal to Earth.
    • Another Titan with parent issues, Roy Harper knows absolutely nothing about his mother. Literally nothing, other than he had to have had one. He knows his father died in a forest fire, but his mother was just never mentioned or never alluded to anywhere. The lack of information actually helped Roy break out of a Lotus-Eater Machine situation.

    Fan Works 
  • For much of The Outside, Ragyo was this, as her absence conflicted the plot, with Soichiro being dead, Satsuki being deemed an unfit guardian, and no one really knowing what too much about or what happened to her, much less her reasons for leaving. To add to this, she left when Ryuuko was about two, thus, the latter wouldn't remember too much of her at all.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines: Not only does Ash realize the memories of his father have become so hazy he can't even remember anything about him, but Ash also encounters a number of characters who look like him, culminating in one of these people calling Ash her brother. Outside of that, plot occurring outside of Ash's awareness builds the mystery up more and more.

    Films — Animation 
  • Coco: It's common in animated movies for one or both parents to be absent from the protagonist's life without explanation, and the consequences are usually vague. In this story, however, a missing parent is a crucial plot point, has huge consequences on the family left behind, and his death is explored and the family comes to terms with it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Thor, Laufey turns out to be Loki's father. A variation since the latter didn't even know about his Parental Abandonment.

  • In Animorphs, Tobias grew up without either of his parents, and they each had a separate good reason for abandoning him! His dad is Elfangor, an alien who left to fight in a war, while his mother is a blind amnesiac.
  • Bria in The Last Dove. Though there's never really any doubt from the beginning that she's Queen Vasi's daughter.
  • Halt in Ranger's Apprentice; he's heir to the throne of Clonmel and his brother is the current king.
  • In Vampire Academy, Rose grew up with no knowledge of her father's identity, other that he was a Turkish Moroi. He turns out to be Ibrahim "Abe" Mazur, a notorious smuggler and trader in information. He later plays an active part in her life.

    Live Action TV 
  • A 30 Rock episode in which Liz had a really bad day culminated with her boyfriend taking her to meet his "mother" on her deathbed. After he left the room, his "mother" confessed to Liz (mistaking her for his ex-wife) that she was actually his grandmother and his "sister" was his real mother. Then she promptly died.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick Solomon's birth father is revealed to be The Big Giant Head played by William Shatner. Knowing this, fans realized Dick was previously married to his cousin Janet. Also note that they have no blood relation to Sally, Tommy, or Harry, even though they pretend to be siblings.
  • Alias did this most famously with the season one finale, "Almost Thirty Years", in which "The Man" walks into the room where Sydney Bristow has been tortured. Sydney raises her head weakly and says "MOM?!"
  • Narrowly averted on Battlestar Galactica when it was widely presumed that the missing Number 7 Cylon, Daniel, was Kara Thrace's missing father until Word of God denied it.
  • Claire Bennet from Heroes. Her birth father is Nathan Petrelli.
    • In the very first episode, Clara's father is perpetually on his way home from a business trip. The Reveal comes that this is the same man that has been menacing Mohinder Suresh throughout the episode and he plays himself to be a typical dad when he comes home. Not as much as a spoiler, but considering how Heroes loves the end-of-episode reveals, it's one of the first big reveals of the series.
  • Arguably, the Mother in How I Met Your Mother counts as one, despite only being a mother in flash-forwards. Throughout the series, she appears often, though her face is always hidden by her signature yellow umbrella until the Season 8 finale, where her face is finally shown and she speaks for the first time in the series.
  • Claire on Lost: a throwaway line about her "daddy abandonment crap" in Season 1 is explained in Season 3 when her father turns out to be Christian Shephard, Jack's dad.
  • Supernatural: John Winchester probably counts. Until the end of Season One, he was busy investigating the secrets of Sam's identity as an evil Chosen One, and he was basically hiding all of these secrets, as well as his whereabouts, from Sam and Dean (who were thus searching for their father without knowing why he was missing.

    Video Games 
  • Both of Ashley's parents take this role in the Another Code games. Her dad is this for the first game while her mom takes the second.
  • Baldur's Gate: The main character's Disappeared Dad turns out to be Bhaal, God of Murder.
  • In Diner Dash the protagonist's parents are never mentioned, and all the adventures Flo has are with her grandmother. In Diner Dash Adventures, their disappearance becomes a plot point when an Intrepid Reporter wants to cover a story about Flo's mother, and Flo has to solve a series of puzzles her mom left to find her.
  • Done twice in Disgaea, with both parents of Laharl. Laharl's father is Mid-Boss, or rather the Dark Adonis, working behind the scenes to reunite the Netherworld and Celestia, while his mother is Big Sis Prinny, paying penance for the sin of taking her own life to save Laharl's.
  • Hidden City has a mysterious grandparent in Clarissa Storke, grandmother of Rayden Storke who had disappeared in the fog years ago. Rayden remembers her as nothing but a sweet and kindly old woman, until a stranger shows up in her house and claims that she's actually a very powerful sorceress.
  • Jade Empire: One of the Lotus Assassins sent to kill Master Li's family couldn't bring himself to kill his infant child, Dawn Star ? who ended up being raised by Master Li at his school in Two Rivers, neither even suspecting their relationship until they're told about it late in the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney's Kay Faraday took up the thief's lifestyle after finding out that her dead father was the original Yatagarasu. She doesn't find out the major twist until later.
  • In Daughter for Dessert, Amanda, thanks to the protagonist's selective truth-telling, knows very little about Lainie. However, when her sister, Cecilia, shows up at the diner, she proves very consequential.
  • Chris Hyde is this for Kyle in Last Window. The primary objective is to find out about his One Last Job and how it got him killed.
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Akira's missing father is revealed to be Yakumo Miroku, the spiritualist that was keeping the Big Bad in check until he passed away. This explains Akira's ability to use Bloodmetry, as it's a form of spiritual power that was passed down from his father.

  • In Drowtales Mel'arnach turns out to be the "father" of Kalki, with Snadhya'rune as the mother. Made possible with the Jaal'darya clan's Organic Technology / Bio-Augmentation.
  • Dr. Sciuridae in El Goonish Shive, who was forced to leave his 'granddaughter' Grace when the company behind Project Lycanthrope discovered that he had intentionally replaced the intended DNA source for Shade Tail with a sample of his deceased daughter's DNA.
    • Nobody knows who the hell Tedd's mom is, but something to do with her had a major impact on Tedd's life.
  • Agatha in Girl Genius is revealed as the daughter of Bill and Lucrezia Heterodyne.
    • Note: that accounts for one of the Mad Scientist Heterodyne heirs, and Lucrezia Mongfish, the notorious villainess, is probably The Other.
    • Gilgamesh grew up not knowing who his parents are. Readers still don't know about his mother, though there are plausible theories.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, there's clearly some big secret about Antimony's missing parents, but no one's telling her anything.
    • Well, we know that Surma was a famous medium, and now her nature and why she's dead and Anthony is absent is revealed. Annie was pretty unhappy to have these details discovered in a less than nice way.
    • Kat didn't believe in magic and never saw her mother using a computer, which made it a rather... interesting moment when Anja mentioned the magical machine she developed years ago.
  • Linda Walkerton in It's Walky! who switched one of her twin children, Sal, at birth in an attempt to mislead Head Alien.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, She-Beast is now known to be the daughter of the notorious supervillain Dr. Diabolik. And she has a pretty darn good idea about her mother. It's not pretty.
    • There's worse lurking around. Carmilla used to be Michael Waite, child of an unwed mother. The father eventually turns out to be a very powerful demon of lust and his mother turns out to be a descendant of Cthulhu who slowly turns into a Deep One.

    Western Animation