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Parental Substitute

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For when your actual dad's too busy training. Or being dead. Or both.
Art by Hal7040

"Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him, and it would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice."
Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgment Day

An amazingly large number of children in the media suffer from Parental Abandonment. Other children are "lucky enough" to have both parents, but unfortunately live in worlds where there are no Happily Married families. For most such children, life is an endless series of disappointments and let-downs. A lucky few, though, manage to find a Parental Substitute.

A Parental Substitute is an adult friend who fills the children's lonely life with guidance and (often) love. They guide the child and teach them how to stand on their own feet, how to have fun, and how to not be so bothered by the fact that Mommy or Daddy are never around (or ignore them). If the parents in question are dead, they may have known them and are able to answer when the child says Tell Me About My Father. They often tell the kid they are So Proud of You. Usually, by the end of the story, the Parental Substitute leaves as well, but at that point the kid is able to stand on their own two feet.


This trope is often a feature of Tear Jerkers, especially if it follows Take Care of the Kids. If it's an older sibling who's taken over the parental role, that's Promotion to Parent. The Old Retainer may take over this role in event that his employer's children are suffering from Parental Abandonment. If an entire society has teens become parental substitutes, that's a Teenage Wasteland. If the child gets into a big argument with the substitute, expect to hear "You're Not My Father" by the time things get really heated.

Imaginary Friend is often involved. If the Parental Substitute decides to make their status official, as it were, the kid becomes Happily Adopted.

Compare and closely related to Promotion to Parent (when it's a sibling) and Adoptive Peer Parent (for non-relatives), Like a Son to Me, Team Mom, and Team Dad.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fairy Tales 

    Films — Animation 
  • Fish, for Eggs in The Boxtrolls. Eggs indirectly calls the boxtroll his father at one point.
  • Ronin to Nod in Epic, in a way.
  • The Iron Giant: Dean McCoppin's a father-figure/mentor to Hogarth, whose actual father was a pilot in the American Airforce (and was presumably killed in the Korean War). He presumably gets promoted to a real parent by the end of the film as he ends up in a relationship with Hogarth's mother. Hogarth himself has a fatherly/big-brother relationship to the giant robot in the title, who has the mentality of a very young child.
  • Baloo acts as this to Mowgli in The Jungle Book for the brief time they are together. Prior to him, he was Raised by Wolves, his adoptive father Rama even referring to him as being "like a real son".
    • Bagheera also takes on a fatherly role with Mowgli; in the live action remake, it's pretty much established Mowgli cares for him as a father, maybe even more than Akela or his biological father.
  • Though Hiccup's father is alive and well in How to Train Your Dragon, it's Hiccup's boss Gobber the Belch who, despite being frustrated with the boy's overall clumsiness and uselessness, is nevertheless supportive and protective of the boy. He urges Hiccup to be happy with who he is, pressures Hiccup's father to let the boy train to fight dragons when it's clear that's what he wants to do, and even defends the boy from the bullies. He's harsh and Innocently Insensitive with his encouragement, but he genuinely means well.
  • Kung Fu Panda
    • Shifu is to Tai Lung and later Tigress, and Mr. Ping to Po.
    • The Soothsayer to Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. All There in the Manual, though some of her interactions with Shen imply this. You get the feeling that if anyone else tried to take a bite out of his robes, they would get a knife to the throat.
  • Lilo & Stitch:
  • In Titan A.E., the Parental Substitute relationship between Kale and Korso is made even more complicated by the fact that Korso is The Mole.
  • Silver is a mentor and father-figure to Jim in Treasure Planet. Considering how the story goes, it's one of the more turbulent examples, but it all works out in the most satisfying way possible.
  • Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are the mother figures to Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. While Aurora's mother never died, the princess did grow up without her mother close to her, so it fell on the fairies' hand to raise the child well. Aurora calls the three her aunts, though.
  • In Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph is a mix of both a big brother figure and a fatherly figure to Vanellope. They generally have the bond of siblings but there are also several aspects of their relationship, especially with regards to Ralph learning to let Vanellope be independent, that lean more towards a paternal relationship.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Greek Mythology:
    • The philandering Zeus fathered a number of sons, none of which he actually helped raise. Some of them were lucky enough to find substitute father figures who took care of them: Heracles was raised by Amphitryon, his mother's mortal husband, while Perseus was raised by the fisherman Dictys, who took his mother Danae in when she was abandoned by her own father, and Dionysus was raised by his maternal aunt Ino and her husband Athamas, who Zeus gave to them to take care of so his jealous wife Hera wouldn't find out about his affair.
    • Zeus himself was raised on a secluded island by nymphs, a goat, and his grandmother Gaia. He liked the goat best—enough to make it the constellation Capricorn after its death.
  • In Norse Mythology, Odin sometimes comes off as this to Loki in some stories (most likely the reason behind Loki becoming his adopted son in the Marvel Comics version). While Odin often threatened him and allowed others to punish Loki for his mischief, the two shared a blood pact which made Odin always treat him as an extension of himself, basically making Loki his child. Kinda sad that he then had to bind him to a boulder as punishment for making some mean comments/killing Baldr, driving Loki insane and turning him against the Aesir, leading to Ragnarok.

  • In Whodunnit?, Trixie sees her father's business partner, Tony, as a substitute dad after her real father disappears in an auto accident.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • On the 2016 Road To Best In The World Silas Young took it upon himself to act as ACH's father after coming to the conclusion his seven year old son was more of a man than ACH. ACH was offended, already having a good relationship with his biological father.

    Puppet Shows 
  • For Big Bird on Sesame Street, being only six years old, and living on his own, several of the adults on the show act as a parental figure for him, notably Gordon, Susan, and Maria. This gets lampshaded in one episode when Big Bird has to check into the hospital, and the receptionist asks Maria if she's his mother. She replies, "Not exactly... kind of... yes."
  • Eureeka in Eureeka's Castle acts like a mother to Magellan the dragon, and to a lesser extent, everyone else.

  • Dino Attack RPG:
    • Pierce filled this role for troubled teenager Kate Bishop, at least until it turns out he actually is her father.
    • Over the years, Bartholomew Enderson became a father figure to Silencia Venomosa, or at least the closest she had to a father since the murder of her parents.
    • Greybeard inadvertently became a Grandparental Substitute to Mary Rose, especially because she was too young to realize that he is not actually her grandfather.
  • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions Artsy-Fartsy became the substitute mom to Mysterious Waif Quito Power.

  • In Henry IV Falstaff likes to think that he is this to Hal. If anything, it is the other way round, at least in Henry IV, Part 1, where Hal is usually the one deciding what they're going to do, protecting Falstaff when he's in danger from the police, and telling him off when he behaves inappropriately. This makes Hal's rejection of Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part 2 a devastating example of Parental Abandonment.
  • Into the Woods: Cinderella becomes one for Little Red Riding Hood and probably for Jack too.
  • In Philoctetes, Neoptolemus is mostly a good guy who is lacking in guidance. While Odysseus first takes on this role for him, Philoctetes becomes a more sincere parental figure to him by the end.
  • Hamilton
    • George Washington is this for the protagonist, which causes no small amount of taunts from Hamilton's enemies. (It should be noted that, historically, Washington was also a father figure to Lafayette and John Laurens.) Hamilton actually resents Washington's paternal feelings since he's got a lot of Daddy Issues, and it causes a major rift in "Meet Me Inside."
    • The older Mulligan also says that he stands in loco parentis for Hamilton, Laurens, and Lafayette.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Weiss Schnee's mother is a neglectful alcoholic and her father is a self-absorbed businessman who is only concerned with maximizing profits and his own image. On the other hand, Klein Sieben is a warm, approachable man who uses his ability to shift personalities to cheer up Weiss when she's feeling low. He provides her with coffee after she's been in a cold room, uses his rude and grumpy personality to make her laugh by mocking Jacques' behaviour, and has a motherly personality that fusses over her well-being. Once Jacques detains Weiss for her insolence in Volume 4, Klein doesn't hesitate to secretly help her escape the family mansion and flee Atlas. Thus, Weiss considers Winter and Klein as the only family she has left.
    • In Volume 6, Emerald's unwavering belief that Cinder will look after them, even when Cinder's estranged from Salem, leads to a confrontation with Mercury. Mercury implies that Emerald's blind faith in Cinder comes from a desperate need to have a mother-figure in her life, and he brutally tells her that she's deluded if she thinks Cinder cares about either of them. Emerald refuses to hear it, but Cinder has a sadistic craving for power and has physically hit Emerald for questioning her decisions.
  • In True Tail, a giant brute bear named Brutus looks after a small young kitten named Caleb. Caleb is also an orphan, so in this series, a bear is the closet thing the kitten has to a protective father.

    Web Original 
  • By the end of the first Cobra Kai season, and well into the second, two examples stand out: Johnny for Miguel, and Daniel for Robby (who just happens to be Johnny's estranged son).
  • Mirrorfall: Ryan for Stef, starts referring to her as his daughter in the third book.

    Web Videos 
  • Outside Xbox: In their Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Prudence - who was abandoned by her birth parents, and raised by a sinister warlock that she ended up justifiably murdering - has developed this sort of relationship with her warlock patron, who has become universally known as "Daddy Cthulhu".
  • SuperMarioLogan:
    • Because Bowser is usually in the other room watching his favorite Show Within a Show, Charleyyy and Friends, Chef Pee Pee is usually the one watching his son, Junior.
    • Mario becomes this to Jeffy in all of Jeffy's appearances (excluding "Bowser Junior's Playtime 4", "Pokémon Part 6", "Bowser Junior's Game Night 4", and "The Dog Show!"), because Jeffy's mother, Nancy, abandoned him on Mario and Rosalina's doorstep.

Video Example(s):


Scary Godmother to Hannah

Scary Godmother is very motherly towards Hannah, and the latter shows no doubt that she loves her godmother very much.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / ParentalSubstitute

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Main / ParentalSubstitute