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Unpleasant Parent Reveal

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In some works, a mother or a father is simply missing and it'll get chalked up as Disappeared Dad or Missing Mom, no problem. The character might not care that their parent is gone and is happy without them. Or, finding out who their parents are might just be the character's whole reason for being. One day, said dad or mom might just show up, and reveal themselves to be something unpleasant. Whether it be a bad guy, a criminal, thief, or even a combination of the three, their reveal is usually the exact opposite of how they imagined their parent to be. All their dreams of a happy family upon reuniting with their Disappeared Dad or Missing Mom are brutally dashed. It's the aversion of the fairy tale ending where all is made right when the character is reunited with their parents.

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This trope also covers a character just finding out that their parent died horribly, was found living in some place undesirable, or simply, anything unpleasant.

If the dad or mom is dead and the character finds out posthumously he/she was a bad guy, then they can come up with all kinds of theories to justify their parent's actions in absentia. Only if they're alive can those be shot down.

See Archnemesis Dad. This may also result in a Broken Pedestal. Compare Visit by Divorced Dad and Anti-Climactic Parent; contrast Good Parents. See also Luke, I Am Your Father, for a specific form of this trope.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Code Geass it's revealed that Lelouch's and Nunnally's sweet, deceased mother wasn't nearly as nice as presumed. Marianne was alive the whole time, is a Big Bad alongside her husband, and it's left vague if she even loved her children.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Future Trunks grew up without Vegeta around, and was given a whitewashed version of his personality by Future Trunks and Bulma. When they meet during the events of the Cell Saga, Trunks, initially happy to meet him, is horrified to discover that the father he never knew and wanted to meet is an arrogant, self-absorbed Jerkass who not only doesn't give a damn about Bulma or the son he fathered with her, but is perfectly willing to endanger the entire planet for the sake of a good fight.
  • In Kill la Kill, the first time protagonist Ryuko met her mother Ragyo involved said mother ripping her heart out of her chest. That's not even factoring in the fact that Ragyo sexually abused her other daughter for the past 12 years and plans on turning the human race into food for an alien parasite.
  • Rinne's father Sabato Rokudo, who is a complete Jerkass who owns an illegal business stealing the souls of still-living people for profit. He steals left and right and is constantly scamming people. He frequently steals his teenage son's own hard earned money, forcing him to live in poverty and leaves him with debts by purchasing things in his son's name, basically committing identity theft. He's the primary antagonist in the series and even though it's Played for Laughs it's pretty messed up.

    Comic Books 
  • In an obscure Aladdin comic book, he finds his long-lost uncle who later turns out to be a thief using him as a distraction. Before he left he said to Aladdin that he knows the truth about his parents. It is unknown of how much the creators of this comic were in touch with the movie creators, or if they were both following a precise lore bible, but it actually ties in pretty well with Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
  • In Batman Jason and Bruce spend a considerable amount of time looking for Jason's biological mother after he realizes that he's not related by blood to Catherine. Jason, excited about the prospect of having living family, tells his birth mom Sheila Haywood about his secret ID as Robin and she immediately betrays him to The Joker, who then proceeds to beat Jason almost to death and blow him up. Upon his resurrection Jay is not upset to learn Sheila died in the blast as well, although his last action in life was trying to save hers.
  • In Runaways, Molly spent years deluding herself that her parents, despite being supervillains, could not possibly have been as bad as the rest of the Pride. In "Mollifest Destiny", she meets one of her parents' former enemies, who tells her that they tortured him for seven years straight just for mildly inconveniencing them. She punches him straight through a roof, and then breaks down and cries, unable to reconcile what she's been told about her parents with her own memories of them.

    Fanfiction 
  • In the Bleach fanfiction Moving Forward Orihime's long-absent father shows up on her doorstep but he isn't there for a heart to heart talk. He is there to take her home so he can get her mother's life insurance. And he is ready to use force to make her come with him.
  • In Cellar Secrets, we have a variant in that Satsuki and Nui find out that, not too long after he left the family, Souichiro died as opposed to having found out that he had done something horrible. However, while they knew he died, they don't find out how he died, until chapter 21, where we find out that he died in a car accident, leaving Satsuki to be relieved that he died rather quickly (his neck was broken) and not because what she would have thought previously.
  • Fire Emblem Fates: Aftermath: Once Corrin is told that Anankos was his father, he's naturally shocked that he's the son of the insane dragon god that tried to destroy humanity. Even after it's explained that it was Anankos' good half that married Mikoto and sired him, Corrin cannot visualize his father as anything but evil.
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    Film — Animation 
  • In Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Aladdin finds out that his missing dad is the King of Thieves, who left years ago to find the Hand of Midas, but never could find it and was too ashamed to return home empty handed, until he finally returned and couldn't find his family note .
  • A variant in Coco—Miguel finds evidence that his idol, Ernesto De La Cruz, was actually his great-grandfather who abandoned the family to pursue a music career. He meets Ernesto in the Land of the Dead, only to find that he's...not so nice underneath the oily persona. Subverted, then, when it turns out that Miguel's ancestor is Héctor, who wrote Ernesto's songs before Ernesto betrayed and murdered him. Miguel is more than happy to find out they're related however, even stating he's grateful compared to Ernesto.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Joe Dirt, after Brandy calls Joe claiming his parents to be dead, his parents manage to find him, but he then finds out that they left him behind at the Grand Canyon on purpose and only found him to ride on the coattails on his newfound popularity. Brandy then tells him that she did indeed track them down for him and decided not to tell him after finding out how horrible they were.
  • In Maleficent, Aurora finds out that her father, who she didn't even know was alive, was the one who disfigured her beloved "fairy godmother" Maleficent.
  • In the third act of SHAZAM!, after Victor and Rosa, Billy's foster parents, chew him out for skipping school and coming home battered and bruised (he cut school to make a few bucks showing off his superpowers and then got beaten up by Dr. Sivana), one of his foster siblings hacked into government databases and tracked down his biological mother, prompting him to run out of the house to meet her. When he does see her, he tries to hug her but she pushes him back, and explains what happened the day she lost him at the fair. Her parents kicked her out the house for getting pregnant, her husband, likely a kid like her, skipped out soon after. At the fair, she lost Billy, and when she saw him being well tended by the cops that found him, she concluded that if she could barely take care of herself, much less her own child, she decided that Billy would've been better off in foster care, and walked away. Billy gives her back the compass she won for him, and goes back to the foster home.
  • Star Wars:
    • In probably the biggest reveal in the entire Star Wars saga, Luke Skywalker learns in The Empire Strikes Back that his father Anakin, whom he sought to emulate as a Jedi, has become the infamous Darth Vader, having fallen to the Dark Side of the Force and become an evil killing machine who strikes terror into the heart of nearly the entire galaxy. Devastated beyond belief at this horrible news, Luke's only hope is to turn his father good again. In Return of the Jedi, Luke has the task of sharing this information with his recently revealed twin sister, Leia, who doesn't take it much better than he did.
    • In The Rise of Skywalker, we have an example of Unpleasant Grandparent Reveal when Rey learns that she's Palpatine's granddaughter.
  • Sorceress: Mira is deeply dismayed when Traigon, who killed her mother and foster father, reveals that he's in fact her birth father.
  • 3 Generations: Ray is quite upset to learn that "Uncle Matthew" is his birth father. Not only that, but his family had all kept this from him.

    Literature 
  • A variant in Animorphs: just before the two-year anniversary of his mother's "death," Marco discovers that his mother is actually the host body of Visser One, who faked the death when she was reassigned off-planet. Marco had actually been planning to quit the team but stayed on with the goal of eventually freeing his mom from the Yeerks. He succeeds forty books later.
    • Subverted with Tobias—he's initially hurt when he discovers that his Missing Mom is living only a few blocks away from his uncle's house, yet never bothered to contact him. It turns out that she has a decent excuse, due to health issues and the incorrect belief that he was Happily Adopted by this point.
  • Everworld is a cross between this and Anti Climactic Parent. Senna sees her Missing Mom as a potential enemy, fully expecting a powerful witch who could easily put the smackdown on her uppity daughter. While Senna's mom does have powers that Senna doesn't, plus the ear of the Amazon queen, she's otherwise a pretty sad individual who spends her days praying to an utterly apathetic goddess and desperately wants to get Senna to like her. Since Senna's a Nietzsche Wannabe, she probably would have preferred the expected smackdown.
  • In the Geekomancy series, it's a Missing Mom who's the unpleasant reveal. Ree Reyes finds out that her Long-Lost Relative was thought dead... But Ree's mom was alive and had gone back to Geekomancy. In the years since leaving her daughter, Branwen had been killed, brought back from the dead, and enslaved by a demon Duke into a murderous Hexomantic witch. Ree slides up and down the emotional spectrum between crushed and furious about this. She also has a healthy side order of guilt because she is keeping the truth of her mother's whereabouts from her father. Ree is certain he'd be devastated to know she left him because she couldn't reconcile her geekomantic talents with being a wife and mother and because she'd shacked up with an old lover in the process.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry looks into Severus Snape's memories for a while and finds out that his deceased father, whom everyone who knew him called a great man, was, in fact, The Bully during his school days who regularly abused Snape. Subverted as James's friends later assure Harry that James had his issues, but he became a better person beyond the context of that one memory Harry saw from Snape's perspective, and part of the reason for James being so harsh towards Snape was because Snape would often do the same to him.
  • The Heir Chronicles: In The Wizard Heir, Seph finds out that, while his parents are not evil as such, his mother gave him to a foster mother instead of raising him herself, in order to keep him safe, and that she never told his father that he has a son. Less than stellar, one might say.
  • Subverted in the Inheritance Cycle. In the second book, Eragon is told by Murtagh that he is the son of Morzan, the last of the Forsworn and overall bad person. As it turns out, however, while his mother was Morzan's wife, his father is actually Brom.
  • In Outcast of Redwall, Veil is the son of the warlord Swartt Sixclaw, though neither attempts to do anything about it. It's only the older members of his horde that see the resemblance (and of course, the fact that both have an extra claw on their hand).
  • In Warrior Cats, Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Hollyleaf, after spending most of a book trying to find out their parentage, are very upset about finding out that they are the product of a very taboo relationship in their society, between a medicine cat (cats who have an important religious role in society aand are supposed to be celibate) and a cat from separate Clan, which is also forbidden. The very law-abiding Hollyleaf takes it particularly badly.
  • The protagonists of the first arc of Wings of Fire each look for their parents in the books they star in, and almost all of them end up disappointed in some way. Clay finds out that in his tribe's culture, parents don't take care of their children at all and just abandon them at birth, though at least he has siblings who care about him. Tsunami finds out that, while her mother genuinely cares for her and isn't a full-out villain, she has some very questionable morals, not to mention being very overprotective, and that she killed her own father without realizing it. Glory ends up in a similar scenario to Clay where her tribe turns out to not care for family, with the added aspect that, from what she knows about that tribe, her parents probably fit the stereotypes she's spent her life trying to prove wrong. Starflight's mother is dead and his father is a Mad Scientist who treats the captured RainWings horribly. Only Sunny, who never felt she needed good parents to be happy, ends up having parents who aren't disappointing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bones: In Brennan's Back Story, her parents disappeared when she was 14 years old. As an adult, she learns that her parents were criminals who abandoned Brennan and her brother in order to keep them from being murdered by other criminals. She finds this out after discovering her own mother's remains in the Jeffersonian's vault of unknown persons' remains. Her father Max is still alive and is a recurring character until he sacrifices himself to save his grandchildren from an attack by an old enemy of Booth's.
  • In Cheers episode "The Bar Stoolie", Cliff's Disappeared Dad shows up after being missing for years. They have a great time bonding until Cliff's dad confesses that he's on the run for real estate fraud. Cliff refuses to follow his father to Australia.
  • Doctor Who: Downplayed in "Father's Day". Rose gets the Doctor to take her back in time to the day her father died, and when she meets him she discovers that he isn't the wonderful man "always having adventures" that her mother described, he's a gadabout looking for his next get-rich-quick scheme. However, he does make a Heroic Sacrifice when he learns that he was supposed to have died but Rose saved him from being hit by a car and changed the world for the worse.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will finally meets his father who left him and his mother a long time ago. While Phil and Vivian aren't keen on seeing him again, Will wants to try and reconcile with him, even planning to hit the road with him... only for his father to just up and leave without a word to Will's dismay. Phil comforts him when Will has a breakdown and wonders why his father doesn't want him.
  • In the series Murdoch Mysteries, the title character first mentions his father Henry during an interview for a promotion, but only to say the man worked as a fisherman and that they've lost touch. In a later episode, Murdoch and Constable Crabtree discover the man unconscious at a murder scene, and viewers learn that Henry has been an alcoholic for years and that William thinks his father is responsible for his mother's premature death. In a subsequent encounter, William investigates a shady land deal that's tangled with mining and murder only to have his father's name come up, and learns he has a half-brother that Henry fathered with a woman to whom he was not officially married.
  • In Night Court: Harry Stone thinks that Harry Stone Sr. was his father. When it turns out that his stepfather Buddy (who met Harry's mother when they were both in a mental institution) is his biological father, it freaks him out.
  • Orange Is the New Black: While Alex was growing up, her mother always told her that though they were poor, she should feel proud that she was the daughter of a great man - a rock star. However, when Alex finally gets to meet him as an adult, she finds a washed-up obnoxious jerk whose first reaction to finding out that she's his daughter is to laugh that it's good he found that out before he hit on her.
  • In Peaky Blinders, Arthur Shelby discovers that his Missing Dad Artur Sr. is still alive and back in town. Despite warnings from the rest of the family, Arthur tries to reconcile with his father believing that the man had a Heel–Face Turn. However, Arthur Sr. is still as rotten as ever and he cons his son out of a large sum of money and then leaves town once again. A despondent Arthur tries to kill himself. A subversion comes from the fact that the Shelbys, being gangsters and killers themselves, do not have an issue with Arthur Sr being a thief but they find it unforgivable that he has no problem stealing from his own family.
  • Soap: In order to get out of the mafia Danny has to kill someone, so the mafia will have something on him. The good news is that he gets to kill the person who killed his own father - which is news to Danny, he thought his father died of natural causes. It turns out that his father was also in the mafia, and had been killed by Danny's stepfather Burt when Danny's father tried to muscle in on his construction business.
  • In The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg, Rohan was found abandoned as a baby by the druid Cathbad. Cathbad recognized a birthmark on Rohan as the Mark of Destiny, a sign that he would play an important role in things to come. In the final story arc of the first and only season, Rohan is horrified when he discovers that the Mark of Destiny is actually a birthmark shared by his biological family: his half-brother Lugad and their mother Queen Maeve.

    Music 
  • The Temptations, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", in which a family learns the awful, awful, truth from Momma about their father's history of lies, theft, and deception.
    Hey Momma,
    I heard Papa called himself a jack of all trades
    Tell me is that what sent Papa to an early grave
    Folks say Papa would beg, borrow, steal
    To pay his bills

    Video Games 

  • Tales of Symphonia: Lloyd doesn't show any interest in learning about his father, citing he already has a father in Dirk. When he learns his mother's past as part of the Exsphere project, he refuses to believe Kvar's worse of her having been killed by his father. But when he learns the truth about his father being Kratos Aurion, he basically has a Heroic BSoD. Partly because Kratos had betrayed the party and fought against them for majority of the game. He does seem to accept the knowledge, as most routes of the game (except for Kratos' own route, ironically enough) have Lloyd call him 'Dad' before heading off to fight the Big Bad.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Champion gladiator Agronak gro-Malog knows that he's the illegitimate son of a western Lord whom he's never met. When he hires the Player Character to investigate his heritage, he's devastated to learn that his father is also a vampire. He tries to get killed in his next fight, unable to bear being the "spawn of evil".
  • At the climax of the main story of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, Rean finds out that his father is the chancellor of Erebonia and the one who is behind the annexation of small towns, cities, and even countries to be absorbed by the Erebonian empire, Giliath Osborne.
  • Resident Evil 6: Jake never knew his father, but his mother had told him "I'm sure he loves you and is thinking about you." During the game, Jake finds out that his father was actually Albert Wesker. Jake is disgusted by his father's actions and hates the idea of becoming like him.

    Webcomics 
  • In Girl Genius, Agatha gets a fairly huge one when she realizes that her mother, Lucrezia Mongfish, is the Other, who was the cause of years of warfare and the mental enslavement of huge swathes of the population. The fact that this revelation comes at the same time as she is being hailed by worshippers of Lucrezia as the Holy Child, and then gets her mother's mind implanted into hers and has her body taken over, just takes everything Up to Eleven.
    • Gil got a minor version at some point pre-canon - his father kept his parentage secret from him until he was at least eight, for fear of assassination, and he was badly bullied as a child for not having any family. He gets a small one when he and Tarvek find out that his father is apparently a rural Spark who was killed by one of his own creations and turned into sausages, which isn't exactly the kind of parent you want. Then he finds out that his father is actually Baron Wulfenbach, ruler of most of Europa - who hadn't told him even though he knew the bullying and torment he was going through. And he still doesn't know who his mother is, although if she is indeed Zantabraxus, Queen of Skifander, like Word of God implies, it's going to be an even bigger surprise.
  • In Something*Positive, Rory wrote a letter to his biological father and got back a profanity-laden rant for his trouble. Interestingly, the dad later sends another note apologizing, along with some backed child support for Rory's mom, though beyond that he has yet to appear in his son's life.
  • Nothing Special
    • Callie finds out in the first arc her mother is a wood nymph who full on murder mortals to use their souls as decorations around her and had kidnapped her father to boot. Not helped when it was learned she nearly smothered Callie as a baby with her moss and tries to force Callie to help her after learning Callie is a muse.
    • Declan kinda gets this when he meets his grandmother, Laurel. While she's not evil, she is very snooty being the head of a high class family of Earth faires. Naturally, while Declan does learn more about his mother through her (who Laurel, surprise surprise, disowned after she fell in love with a human), he likewise isn't too keen on her flippant attitude towards Callie, his girlfriend, and fellow friends Lasser and Radish.

    Western Animation 
  • Finn's father from Adventure Time is initially a complete mystery, but when it's revealed that he's alive, Finn is very eager to meet him. He obviously has high hopes that he'll be some kind of hero like Finn himself, despite the fact that it's revealed he is in an inter-dimensional prison. But of course, it turns out he's basically a selfish coward who scams and takes advantage of people as he bums around space, and Finn is devastated to find that he was abandoned and his father doesn't seem to care about him at all.
    • His mother zig-zags this. On one hand, she loads more competent and caring, plus the leader of a colony of likely the last remaining humans on Ooo. On the other hand, she turns out to be a Mad Scientist as well and nearly subjects him to Unwilling Roboticisation but he manages to talk her out of it and the two are still on good terms when he heads back to the Candy Kingdom.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Con Heir", Stan's real dad, Jack Smith, reappears after being gone for 20 years. He's eventually revealed to be a jewel thief who tricks Stan into helping him steal art and other artifacts. He's a recurring antagonist in future episodes.
  • Caleb in W.I.T.C.H. is not pleased to learn in season two that his Missing Mom is also the season's Big Bad.
  • In Dofus, Joris is an orphan raised by Kerubim, and thus spends a lot of time imagining what his parents were like (his favorite fantasy is that they were star Gobball players). Saying he's unnerved when he discovers that Julith is his mother is an Understatement.
  • A variant occurs in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes. We finally learn the identity of K.O.'s dad in "Big Reveal". At first, K.O. is excited that he's the son of Laserblast, one of the greatest heroes ever...until he finds out that one of his foes, Professor Venomous, was Laserblast. K.O. was ecstatic to learn who his father was, but not who he became.
  • In Steven Universe, the title character's mother, Rose Quartz, is a Posthumous Character (more or less) who "died" when Steven was born. Early episodes have her loved ones always describing her as The Ace and an All-Loving Heroine, but as the series goes on we learn more morally gray or unpleasant actions that she was involved in; her intentions always seemed noble, but Steven finds himself struggling more and more with what kind of person she really was.
  • In the series finale of Harvey Beaks, Fee and Foo meet their parents, whom they'd been separated from since they were very young. Despite previously wanting to meet them, Foo is disappointed that their parents are a pair of Funny Foreigners who lost their children out of sheer incompetence, and openly wishes she had "normal", dependable parents like Harvey's. However, Foo's opinion of them is greatly improved when Fee points out that their parents spent the entire decade since looking for the twins.


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