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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, but they never actually come back. Other times it's a 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.


Compare to Released to Elsewhere and Dog Got Sent to a Farm or when parents tell their children that their parent ran off or divorced when they actually died, 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.


Anime & Manga

  • 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. Dilmom'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.

Film — Live Action

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mentioned in 1995's Man of the House 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.
  • 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!


  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • 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.
  • Will's dad in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air disappeared when his son was five and used this excuse.
  • 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:
    "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:
    “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.”
  • 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...
  • Friends: Phoebe's dad for his second family. He went to the drugstore four years ago, so he should be back any minute now.
  • Married... with Children: Seven's parents went to "get cigarettes". Al notices they used the excuse to leave town and leave Seven with 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.
  • The George Lopez Show: George's father, Manny, also went off to get some smokes, though Benny already knew he wouldn't be returning because they already had cigarettes.
  • Midnight Caller: Jack's father went to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned, leaving the family $486 and an overdue rent bill.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
Web Comics

Web Original

  • Parodied in Ultra Fast Pony: Every episode opens with a different character saying the name of the show. When someone points out to Rarity that she's the only one who hasn't gotten to do one of those intros, she retorts, "My episode intro just went to the store! You'll see!"
  • SuperMarioLogan: In "Jeffy's Parents!", this is Nancy's excuse for leaving Jeffy.
  • 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."
  • Subverted in one of Stuart Ashen's videos about cheap Fathers Day gifts:
    That's right, it's Father's Day! The day that we celebrate all dads that went out to get some cigarettes... and came back shortly afterwards with some cigarettes.
  • An Internet meme is that "My father left to walk the dog/went to the store to get milk [number] years ago."

Western Animation

  • 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.
  • 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 traumatised 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.
  • 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 episode "Future Drama", Future Nelson pulls the same trick on Sherri and Terri, both of whom he got pregnant.

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.
  • 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.


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