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Parent Never Came Back from the Store

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"My mom already left for the diner and dad went to the 7-Eleven to get scratchers. I guess he won, 'cause that was six years ago."
Harley Keener, Iron Man 3

A form of Parental Abandonment that is often Played for Laughs but can also be Played for Drama.

When a parent decides to leave their family or breaks up with their partner, they'll make the excuse of Going to the Store to buy cigarettes/milk/whatever, but they never actually come back. Other times it's an excuse made by the child's family in order to soften the trauma or shield the kid from the issue. If the child is young or naive enough, they will believe that their parent really did go to the store and are just taking a really, really long time coming back.

If the parent in question really did go to the store and never came back because they died, it's often much more Played for Drama. A Played for Laughs variation of this is having it be that they really did go to the store, are still alive, and really are taking that long to come back.

Compare to Released to Elsewhere and Dog Got Sent to a Farm, as well as to When You Coming Home, Dad? for when a dad is busy but not completely absent. Contrast Family Man, who probably never would do this.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Blue Reflection Ray the Hirahara sisters' mother, who had been raising them alone, said she was going out to buy light bulbs and never returned. In the followup game, Blue Reflection: Second Light Hiori further confides in Ao about this.
    Hiori: ...Like maybe if mom knew all the light bulbs worked, she wouldn't have needed to go buy new ones... I always get scared someone will go away whenever a light goes out.
  • Case File nº221: Kabukicho has Mary and Lucy Morstan abandoned by their father after he told them (and their mom) that he needs to get a pack of cigarettes.
  • Not exactly a parent, but one could apply this trope to Damian in Pokémon: The Original Series. He told his Charmander to wait for him on top of a large rock with no intention of ever returning for it. Had it not been for Ash Ketchum and his friends, the Charmander would've died in the rain. One of the manga versions had him get into an accident that left him hospitalized for quite some time.
  • In the Slayers OVA "Jeffrey's Knighthood", Jeffrey's father left to get milk and disappeared for ten years. Presumably he was trying to get away from his crazy wife Josephine.

    Comic Strips 
  • Subverted with Dilbert. Dilbert's mother's explanation for Dilbert's Disappeared Dad is that they lost him at an all-you-can-eat buffet. In a much later strip, though, Dilbert visits his father, who is indeed still at the buffet restaurant because he's so resolutely Literal-Minded that he refuses to leave until he has actually had "all he can eat". It should be noted that this took place in December of 1992, and by all accounts Dildad is still at the buffet today.

    Fan Works 
  • Played for Laughs by Code Geass: Awesome of the Rebellion, a Troll Fic that had a Schedule Slip of four years. When the author returned with a new chapter, he claimed in the author’s note that he got lost in the woods while heading out for milk. (In a YouTube interview, he stated the reality was that he had initially lost interest in writing the story, but a Dramatic Reading rekindled his motivation.)
  • Cruelly Invoked by Rolland in the Dad Villain AU. When Sabine's mysterious illness reaches the point that she has to be hospitalized, he insists that she's just faking for attention... and to get out of having to work at the bakery. He then tells Marinette that her mother might never come back, implying that she'd be running away from her responsibilities.
  • Klonoa: Lunatales: In The Feather, Popka notices the High Priestess holding an infant. Unaware that said infant is the deaged King of Sorrow, he sarcastically asks her if the baby's dad left to get milk.
  • In Off To The Races, Masami simply went off for a walk one day and never came back, leaving her children in the hands of their abusive father.
  • Near the end of RWBY's second volume, after Yang's Missing Mom Raven made some very brief appearances, fan-made character status charts listed Raven's status as "Went out to buy Powerball tickets" or "Still out buying those cigarettes" throughout Volume 3. When Volume 4 rolled around and Raven finally stuck around for most of an episode before splitting again, her status was updated to "After finding her cigarettes, Raven left once again after realizing she doesn't own a lighter."

    Film — Animation 
  • Pink Diamond pulled a variant of this on Spinel in Steven Universe: The Movie. She told her they were going to play a game in which Spinel must stand still in one spot and wait for her to come back. She then proceeded to leave and never returned. Poor Spinel was left standing there for literally thousands of years waiting for her master to come back, until she eventually saw a broadcast revealing the truth, causing her to snap and become evil. Heaven knows how long she would have waited had it not been for that convenient broadcast...

    Film — Live Action 
  • Duets has a case of the abandoning person saying so, as Todd constantly mentions in that his current status is "out getting a pack of cigarettes." There's even the flashback showing how it started:
    Todd: Sorry Candy, I'm going out for a pack of cigarettes.
    Candy: But Todd, you don't smoke!
  • Iron Man 3: When Tony meets Harley, a kid in Tennessee, he says his dad went to a 7-Eleven to get lottery scratch-offs, six years ago. He's bitterly aware his dad left him and his mother, regardless of whether the lottery was actually involved. Tony, being Tony, responds with his usual tact:
    Tony: ...Which happens. Dads leave, no need to be a pussy about it.
  • Mentioned in 1995's Man of the House (1995) during Ben Archer's Opening Narration that his father packed up his things and drove away, saying he needed to "find himself." He took his cute secretary along to help him look. The abandonment was rather transparent, so Ben and his mother Sandy begin their single-parent life right from go.
  • In Parenthood, Larry Buchman tells his father that he's going off to South America on yet another of his "get rich quick" schemes, assuring that he'll return if it doesn't pan out and asking him to look after his son in the meantime. His son, at all of four years old, is savvy enough to bluntly ask his grandfather, "Is he ever coming back?" To which his grandfather just as bluntly answers, "No".
  • In Quartier Lointain, the protagonist's father says he's going out to buy some bread on the night of his 40th birthday. He doesn't come back.

  • A fake newspaper advice column once had a "tips for breaking up" section, which mentioned:
    Don't use the old excuse of going to buy cigarettes. Be a man, send her to buy cigarettes for you, and flee through the rooftops before she remembers you never smoked.
  • Marcus Didius Falco: The main character's father went out one evening for a game of draughts; as far as Falco knows, he's still playing it.
  • Rod Allbright Alien Adventures: In book 3 (The Search for Snout), while in suspended animation, Rod dreams about the windy October night when his father said he was going out for a walk and never came back. Justified in this case — Mr. Allbright had gotten wind that his enemy BKR was on his way to Earth and was trying to draw BKR away from the planet in order to protect his family.
  • Twelve Days: When the Dorseys still lived in Miami, Raoul left the house, saying he was getting pizza and would be back in twenty minutes. Instead of coming home, he emailed Olympia to say he needed to work things out. The next she heard was from his lawyer.

    Live Action TV 
  • 30 Rock:
    • Parodied in the final episode when Tracy Jordan's father returns from the store with cigarettes.... about thirty-five years after he went out.
    • Played straight when Tracy associates the scent of Liz's hair product with his absent father:
      Tracy: You're still here! You didn't go to the store for milk and heroin and then never come back!
    • Subverted when Jack is talking about his father:
    Jack: Thirty-five years ago my father, Jimmy Donaghy, went out for a pack of cigarettes, came back, smoked one, told my mother he was leaving forever, and walked out the door.
  • Bones has Brennan's parents. One episode has her say they went Christmas shopping and never returned due to going on the run. However, another version is told in another episode as well.
  • The Cosby Show. A janitor at Cliff's hospital mentions that after a year of marriage, her husband went out for cigarettes and never returned.
  • In the second season of Friends, Phoebe finds the address of the father who abandoned her as a baby and finally works up the courage to meet him. However, her father's second wife informs her that he left to get groceries four years ago and should be back "any minute now." Phoebe's disappointment is somewhat alleviated when she meets her teenaged half-brother who she never knew existed.
  • The George Lopez Show: George's father, Manny, also went off to get some cigarettes, though Benny already knew he wouldn't be returning because they already had cigarettes.
    Manny: I'm gonna get some smokes!
    Benny: We've got smokes right here. Pick another lie.
    Manny: I'll stick to my first one! [leaves].
  • Gilmore Girls: When Jess was a baby, his biological father Jimmy went to the store for diapers and never came back. He shows up again when Jess is eighteen, wanting to build a relationship with him.
  • Played very seriously once on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where a father really didn't come home from the store because he got killed in a holdup. This does not do good things for the mother's sanity, and it really doesn't turn out well for the children.
  • Married... with Children: Seven's parents went to "get cigarettes". Al notices they used the excuse to leave town and leave Seven with them.
  • Midnight Caller: Jack's father went to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned, leaving the family $486 and an overdue rent bill.
  • In Monk, Adrian Monk's father ran away from his own family after he was supposed to get Chinese food.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In Cry Wilderness, they reference this in one of the riffs:
    Mr. Douglas: What did your father have to say about these meetings?
    Paul: I never told him.
    Mr. Douglas: Why not?
    Servo: He hasn't come back from buying cigarettes yet...
  • NCIS: When Nick Torres was five years old and living in Panama, his father left in the middle of the night, claiming that he wanted to be first in line to pick up something from a bakery in a nearby town. The truth was that he was helping the CIA overthrow Manuel Noriega, and leaving his family was his way of protecting them.
  • In Punky Brewster, this was how the title character wound up living alone before being found at the beginning of the series. Her mom had gone to the store and never came back. In a slight twist, Punky and her dog were waiting outside the store instead of at home. The mystery of her mom's fate served as an occasional plot point for the rest of the series.
  • Shtisel: In the first episode, Lippe is going to Argentina for a year to work for a kosher meat processor. He uses the opportunity to cut ties and abandon his family. He eventually comes back, but they take a long time to forgive him.

  • Told from the parent's perspective in "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen:
    Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
    I went out for a ride and I never went back.
  • Referenced in "Little Things" by Good Charlotte:
    And that same year, on Christmas Eve, Dad went to the store.
    We checked his room, his things were gone.
    We didn't see him no more.
  • The Midnight Beast's parody of "Tik Tok" has a verse where one of the singers goes into an increasingly hysterical Non Sequitur rant about how his father never returned from going out to buy milk on Christmas Eve, leading to him having a breakdown about finding him again to discover that he doesn't even remember his son anymore:
    Dru: This is the part where your dad goes out on a cold Christmas Eve to get some more milk, but he never comes back because seventeen years later you find out he's had a whole fucking family with some Spanish bitch and he doesn't even know your fucking name anymore!
    Stefan: Shut the fuck up!
    Dru: (crying) I'm sorry...
  • In "Holes" by Passenger, the second verse is about a family who had this happen. "One day her husband went to get a paper and the motherfucker never came back."

    Tabletop Games 

  • When Lion El'Jonson, the long-sleeping and presumed dead Primarch of the Dark Angels was announced to be returning, some Dark Angels fans jokingly referred to this trope, saying that "Dad has returned AND he brought cigarettes!"

    Web Animation 
  • Played for laughs in hololive with Calliope Mori, who everyone calls Dad ever since she did a readalong of My Dad's the Queen of All VTubers?!. During one of the times she came back after a break, she does it.... by presenting a carton of milk.


    Web Original 
  • An Internet meme is saying that "My father left to walk the dog/went to the store to get milk [number] years ago."

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Referenced on Adventure Time: In "Escape From the Citadel", while Martin visibly tries to escape into space and leave his son Finn behind, he claims to be going to the store. Nobody is fooled.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Richard's father Frankie said he was going to get milk when he left. Richard, being the Manchild that he is, is in heavy denial about this even into his 40s.
  • American Dad!: Double Subverted in "Holy S***, Jeff's Back!". A dad is shown leaving his son, telling him that he's just going to the store for a pack of cigarettes, but it's clear he's walking out on his family. At a crossroads, he decides to break the cycle and go to the store after all...only to be killed when a meteor hits his car.
  • Subverted in Black Dynamite:
    Black Dynamite's Daddy: Now I could lie to you and say, 'I'm just goin' out for a pack of cigarettes.' But the truth is, I'm leavin' you to raise eight-year-old Black Dynamite by yourself. Now dig it while you can, because the light just turned muthafuckin' green. Bye, bitch!
  • Dilbert has a variant in which young Dilbert's father abandoned him by going to an All-You-Can-Eat restaurant, refusing to leave until he's really had all he can eat. It's Played for Laughs, but Dilbert seems to have been truly traumatized by the abandonment.
  • Drawn Together: Foxxy's father left to get cigarettes and never came back.
  • Inverted on The Fairly OddParents!—since Mama Cosma didn't approve of Wanda, Cosmo pulled this trick when the two got married. To be fair, he did come back... 9,975 years later, when he mistakenly believed that Wanda had forgotten their anniversary.
  • In the season two finale of Rick and Morty, Rick tells Morty he's going to go get ice cream. Morty begins to worry that Rick is invoking this trope, despite Rick's assurances.
  • In one of Heinz Doofenshmirtz's flashbacks from Phineas and Ferb, an Inversion happens. He was assigned by his parents to go to the store, only to discover too late that they were plotting to disown him by sending him on a ship to United States. Its anyone's wonder as to why did Doof held no animosity for his parents despite their obvious signs of treating him as The Unfavorite.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Nelson's dad went to the store a few years ago and never came back. It is later revealed that he actually did to go to the store, at which point he suffered a peanut allergy and got abducted into a circus sideshow; later episodes ignore this, however, and portray him as if he still abandoned the family.note 
    • In the episode "Future Drama", Future Nelson pulls the same trick on Sherri and Terri, both of whom he got pregnant. When they explicitly point out that Nelson's father did the same thing, he replies "I never understood that... until now. I'M COMING, PAPA!" before running away.

    Real Life 
  • In some countries like Chile, the phrase "my dad went to buy cigarettes and never came back" is a common joke used even by comedians. In Czech republic, the saying is "Dad went to a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes" and is also commonly used, especially by fans of Simpsons.
  • This happened with Stephen King's father when Stephen was two years old. He didn't come back. King later joked he must have been looking for a rare brand.
  • Silent film stars Norma, Constance, and Natalie Talmadge mentioned that while they were young and poor, their father, who was an alcoholic, went looking for food and never came back.


Video Example(s):


Off to Sell Some Squidgy Mops

Shona flashes back to the last time she saw her dad go out on his Betterware round before he abandoned her and her mother.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ParentNeverCameBackFromTheStore

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