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"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."
—Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest
A stunningly large number of heroes and their coteries are lacking in the parent department, either through death or in that they just aren't talked about. Even if both parents are alive, they may well be emotionally or physically distant. Everyone is, for the sake of the plot, Conveniently an Orphan, whether they actually are or not.
This is a very convenient way for characters to be able to run off in the middle of the night to fight Evil, get sucked into another world, etc. without having anyone responsible for them making a fuss. In fact, one of the first things a creator of stories about children or teens having adventures needs to do is explain a lack of parental involvement.
It also allows for the Ordinary High School Student to be revealed as a super-powered demon fighter, or intergalactic being without the need for a messy Retcon answering the question an alert viewer would ask about why the parents didn't know about this. It's simply a case of the child following in their parent's Secret Legacy.
Of course, if you go back far enough, you'll reach a time when most young adults in Real Life actually were orphaned or abandoned. Adults died younger than than they do now, and people with chronic illnesses like schizophrenia or tuberculosis were often sent away from the family to recover or die. It was also easier to abandon a family, given the poor communications of the times and the lack of a police force. Because of all this, it's quite common for a fictional character from the 19th century or earlier to mention being orphaned with no more emotional reaction than a shrug, since the experience was considered a normal part of real life. A good example is Jane Austen's Emma, where the title character's mother died years earlier, but is barely mentioned.
Note that the parents in question don't actually have to die for this Trope to be in effect. Note also that in a few cases listed below, parents are hardly even mentioned -- which makes things incredibly awkward.
If only one parent is missing or dead, then it's a case of Missing Mom or Disappeared Dad. When several siblings lack their original parents, the first born will receive a Promotion to Parent. Parental Abandonment is also a leading cause of Dark Magical Girls. One standard method for achieving it is to make your characters Blitz Evacuees.
In families with servants, this can lead to the Old Retainer acting as a Parental Substitute. If they were traveling abroad when both parents died, the child may be Raised by Natives. If the parents die in the wilds, their surviving child may be Raised by Wolves. It is also possible the parents left them out there to die, expecting them to be a meal, not a adoptee.
When the parents had to separate from the child in order to protect it, this results in Moses in the Bulrushes. When the parents had to leave the child in order to give it "a better life", then it leads to Give Him a Normal Life.
In animation, cases of parentis abscentia can be caused by budgeting; it's cheaper to animate one character (usually Dad) than to have two characters basically doing the same thing.
May entail Tell Me About My Father. Or rarely, mother. For reasons of economy, the child is seldom interested in both parents. See also Parental Neglect, Hands-Off Parenting, Disappeared Dad. Parental Abandonment en masse may create a Teenage Wasteland.
- Popular in earlier Code Lyoko works and Epileptic Trees in some form or another due to the sheer number of unseen or unmentioned parents. Now that all of the parents (that are minor characters, anyway) have been proven to be alive and well ((except for Sissi's mother, who is never seen or mentioned) this has fallen into disuse.
- Elizabeth Quatermain's mother died at her birth, and her Great White Hunter father didn't think he had the chops to raise a baby girl on his own, so she grew up in the care of her mother's spinster sister. She wasn't totally isolated from her father and older half-brother, but it was mostly limited to holidays.
- In the Battle Fantasia Project, Magical Girl Star Reverie/Akiko Yamaguchi has had a rough life, having her career being more like Sailor Nothing than, say, Sailor Moon. After years of steadily escalating suspicious behavior, Mr. and Mrs. Yamaguchi kick her out, as may very well happen to a Magical Girl whose parents have been out of the loop all this time. However, instead of putting her on the streets, they put her in a reform school... with kids who are genuine delinquents. For some time nothing was done to cover their reaction to Akiko's jump that starts the whole story off. That is, until recently with Akiko's mother. The shock of seeing her girl attempt suicide after outing herself as a Magical Girl (which was indeed news to her) is played for as much drama as possible.
- In 'Nexus' Jack is understandably pissed when his mother tells him that his father left them for power.
- In the first story of the Daria fanfic series, John Lane, Helen learns of John's parents' Hands-Off Parenting style, which means they have been away from home and their children for months, and has no choice as an Officer of the Court but to call the police on them for child abandonment.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fanfic Whispers: Celestia tells Arcanus that her mortal mother died a long time ago and that she never even had a father. She also points out that Arcanus can claim the same thing - he also never knew his father, and his mother is sick, elderly and implied to be dying.
- In a series of Fire Emblem Awakening comics based on the canon Bad Future, Henry ditches his newborn son Yarne so he can get himself killed in battle and join his babymama Panne in the afterlife. Considering Henry's own past, this is incredibly out of character for him.
- "Mother" by John Lennon, where he addresses the pain, sadness, and anger caused by losing both his parents. (His father left him as an infant, and his mother was killed by a drunk driver when he was 17.) He wrote two other songs about his mother: "Julia" and "My Mummy's Dead".
- Tyler, the Creator from OFWGKTA made a whole album called Bastard about being a literal bastard because his father abandoned him.
- The Kellie Pickler song "I Wonder" is Pickler addressing her birth mother, who abandoned her.
Myths & Religion
- This trope is very common in legends and stories dating back thousands of years.
- Older Than Feudalism: Moses and Oedipus are two characters abandoned by their parents. Also see Moses in the Bulrushes.
- King Arthur is a more recent example.
- In general, many players will take on this trope also as a means to avoid the cliché plotline of having the villain kidnap the player's parents as hostages. For many other players, this is just an easy character development device to justify their character's attitude towards the world.
- The Vampire: The Masquerade and Mage: The Awakening core rulebooks specifically advise players not to play orphans or people who are estranged from their parents specifically because this trope is used so often and there are lucrative storytelling possibilities involved in having mortal/Muggle friends and family.
- Present in Warhammer 40000: the Emperor's twenty clone sons were lost in a warp storm due to the Chaos gods and scattered across the galaxy to be raised by whoever-or whatever-found them. Wolves, on one occasion.
- General Stanley from The Pirates of Penzance is in fact not an orphan. "More than that, he never was one."
- Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck involves the titular Anti-Hero killing his girlfriend and their child being abandoned by the neighbours. There's also a scene of an old woman telling the following story to her grandchildren:
"Once there was a poor child with no father and no mother. Everything was dead and there wasn't a soul left on Earth. Everything was dead and the child went out and searched day and night. But since there was no one left on Earth he wanted to go up to Heaven, and indeed the Moon looked down kindly at him, but when he got up to the moon it was just a piece of rotten wood. So he set off for the Sun, and when he got there it was only a withered sunflower, and when he got to the stars they were only golden gnats that a shrike had stuck to the blackthorn bush, and when the child wanted to go back down to Earth, it was just an upside-down chamber pot and the child was all alone. Then he sat down and cried and he's still sitting there to this day, all alone."
- Seymour Krelborn from Little Shop of Horrors was adopted by Mr. Mushnik, and he just makes the poor guy sweep the flower shop and sleep in the basement.
- The musical Wicked. Elphaba's mother dies while giving birth to Elphaba's sister. Her dad loves her sister, but is cold and distant towards her because of her looks. He dies later as well. However, Dad is not her biological dad at all, which Dad may have known and may be part of the reason he didn't like her. Her biological dad is the Wizard. She doesn't find this out and he doesn't find out until after her presumed death.
- The Baker from Into the Woods was abandoned by his father, the Mysterious Man, after his mother's death. He in turn almost abandons his child.
- Brooklyn. The titular character's parents are split up before she's born when her father is called away to war; her mother commits suicide a few years later, and Brooklyn is raised in a convent. After she grows up, she travels from France, where she's lived her whole life, to America, in search of her father. Who doesn't want to be found, and gets really upset when she shows up.
- In West Side Story, near the beginning it is revealed Riff lives with Tony and his parents for unknown reasons.
- All three of Fate/stay night's key human characters have parent issues. Shirou is an orphan, and the man who adopted him is also dead. Rin is living alone, her father having died in the previous Grail War; the man who's been her guardian since then is in fact the Big Bad, and her father's killer. Worst off by far is Sakura: her parents gave her to a foster family years ago, and she's been suffering horrific abuse at their hands ever since.
- Inverted in the prequel, Fate/Zero -- Kiritsugu (Shirou's adoptive father, and protagonist) left Illya, his daughter, knowing that he can't be reunited with her, which is the reason for her strange relationship with Shirou in Fate/stay night.
- It's also applicable to Tsukihime. Shiki's biological parents are dead. His foster father died before the start of the story and is the plot catalyst. Only passing mention of the mother, it's assumed she died. Arihiko has no family left except his sister. Ciel's parents are dead because she killed them. Hisui and Kohaku don't even know their surnames let alone their parents. Most of the rest of the cast aren't people who actually would have families of any sort. An exception is made for Satsuki, who apparently has a healthy home life. Maybe that's why her route was removed?
- The parents of Kotomi in Clannad don't seem to be very present in her life despite being famous scholars. We later find out why when it's revealed that they died in a plane crash. And they loved her. A lot. Until the very end. But Kotomi herself was so traumatised by their deaths that she convinced herself they were in permanent travels and dedicated herself only to her studies. There is also Tomoya, who is estranged from his father; given the fact that said father was responsible for injuring his arm in a drunken fit and thus preventing Tomoya from ever fulfilling his dream of becoming a basketball player, it is not surprising that it should be so. At one point Tomoya even leaves home to live with Nagisa and her family because of issues with his father; however, it is hinted that they are on their way to healthier relationship in the last episode of the anime, and in fact Tomoya's dad did try to raise him well at first but succumbed to depression at some point and became an alcoholic..
- The trope is heavily subverted with Nagisa's parents, who shower her and each other with affection, but then again, they did not pay much attention to her when she was a child due to their work and because of that Nagisa nearly died; one could say that it is a rare case of the trope evolving into a normal family situation.
- And of course Tomoya's relationship with Ushio. Not only does Tomoya end up mirroring the relationship with his own father, but by becoming a doting parent when Ushio is 5 years old, mirrors the relationship with Nagisa and her parents.
- Ryo Sasaki from Crescendo Eien Dato Omotte Ita Ano Koro stands out -- not only did his biological parents put him up for adoption when he was little, his adoptive parents died in a car accident a few years before the events of the game. He's been living with his older stepsister ever since.
- The Ace Attorney series adores this trope, especially when it can be used for a murder case. Phoenix Wright himself is one of the few main characters who doesn't seem to suffer from this, as his parents are never mentioned at all.
- Edgeworth's father was killed by Manfred von Karma 15 years ago, which the fourth case of the first game is centered around, and since Miles was adopted by von Karma it can be assumed his mother is dead as well.
- Mia and Maya's father are never mentioned, though the latter is implied to have left them due to Kurain Village's female-centered way of life. The Fey sisters' mother went missing during the events that are the background of the first game, though she reappears as Elise Deauxnim and is killed in the third game.
- Pearl Fey's father left the village for similar reasons, and then Pearl's mother gets arrested for assisting in a murder so she's out both parents. Morgan Fey's first husband also left the village, taking Dahlia and Iris with him. Later, he abandoned Iris at the mountain temple
- Apollo Justice's family is completely unknown. In the fourth case, Thalassa Gramarye is revealed to be his mother, and he is actually Trucy's half-brother as she is Thalassa and her second husban's child. Trucy never knew her mother, and her father, Zak Gramarye, abandoned her at age 9 to save himself from a guilty verdict. She never sees him again, while Phoenix takes her in as his adoptive daughter.
- In Investigations this happens two cases in a row. Lauren Paups never knew her father since he was arrested for murder when she was very young and then came to work at the same house as her under a false name. She never found out who he was until (once again) after his murder. In the next case we have the hunt for Kay Faraday's father's murderer, seven years before the rest of the game.. Kay's mother is never mentioned, so it can be assumed she's either dead or not living with Kay's father. After her father's murder, Kay lives with her mother's relatives.
- Ema and Lana Skye's parents died in a car crash when Ema was little, resulting in Lana's Promotion to Parent.
- And all this doesn't even account for all the more minor characters in the games who suffer from this trope, such as Sean and Ken Dingling and Machi Tobaye.
- Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai: Yamato's parents moved overseas because his father lost hope in Japan. Cap's dad is an adventurer who doesn't mind his son doing the same. Wanko is Conveniently an Orphan, Miyako has a not-particularly-missed Mom. Mayucchi's parents live in another province, and she stays at the dormitory.
- Happens with some of the characters in Katawa Shoujo
- Emi lost her father in the same car accident in which she lost her legs.
- Hanako's parents died in the house fire in which she received her scars.
- Lilly's parents moved to Scotland, leaving her older sister Akira to take care of her.
- Broken Saints: Raimi's dad left he and his mother in his childhood. And that's just the tame one... Shandala's biological father abandoned her on a Fijian Island as part of a magnificent Plan to further his Evil Plan.
- Bitey of Brackenwood was taken in by a family of Morrugs, after the event that wiped the other Dashkin out. When they have their own child however, they abandon him. It's heavily suggested that this was what made Bitey such a bitter and cruel Jerkass.
- In Route 148 now elderly Frank tries to make sense of the situation in which he was taken in by the Reed family. Also his grandson Linton, one of the comic's main protagonists, is noticeably lacking in the parental department.
- In El Goonish Shive, two main characters have divorced parents, one is technically an orphan and one hates her overbearing, borderline-oppressive Education Mama so much we might as well throw her in too. Two have had their fathers show up, though not on-screen (one in a one-sided phone conversation, the other from outside a room). Oh, and of the remaining main characters, one is an Opposite Sex Clone of the other, and was hence adopted by the same Open Minded Parents, who seem a quite a bit less concerned about the weirdness going on than they should be.
- Antimony Carver from Gunnerkrigg Court: Her mother, Surma, dies just before the start of the story from an unspecified ailment that had hospitalized her since about the time of Annie's birth. And Annie's father, Anthony, is one of the most mysterious characters in the comic. Only seen in flashbacks and even then greatly obscured, he disappeared soon after his daughter started at the Court. He's easily the biggest speculation-bait in a series filled with Epileptic Trees, his current situation, personality and feelings towards his daughter as mysterious as when the comic started.
- In Fans, when it is learned that Alisin has an unknown blood disease which appears to be slowly killing her, the Worthingtons decide to give her whatever she wished for, including, when she rebelled against their over-protection, her freedom. While it seems that they continued to give her any money she asked for and poured vast sums of money into finding a cure, they otherwise had no part in her life afterwards. This is entirely in Alisin's Backstory; the only appearance which Senator Worthington makes at the time of the main story is on television, and Mrs. Worthington is seen only in flashbacks.
- Five-year-old prodigy Gin in Jackie's Fridge is for all intents and purposes being raised by Melissa and Ada. Generally played for laughs, this takes a mildly tragic turn: when she gets injured on the playground and has to go to the hospital for stitches, her parents' only reaction is that Melissa interrupted their game of disc golf. It's also then that Melissa learns that they had never given her any gifts -- ever.
- Gordito from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja was raised by his single father after his mother's death. After his father's death, he was raised by his paleontologist uncle. Now, he's the Robin to Dr. McNinja's Batman.
- The title character of "Little Dee" has become lost or separated from her parents. The forest animals who stand in for her family make periodic (and increasingly more half-hearted) attempts to find them.
- In the first "season" of The Wotch, the families of the characters are quite absent. The second starts bringing them into scenes, though.
- Mostly subverted in Dominic Deegan. The title character's family is pretty solid; the only estranged child is Jacob, the oldest of the three, and that's because he used the youngest, Gregory, as part of a necromantic experiment which almost killed Greg and got him thrown out. Mr. and Mrs. Deegan are in their sixties and still very much in love with one another. The only borderline case is the Travoria family. They started out as a whole family, but Mr. Travoria was killed by Mrs. Travoria, Mrs. Travoria was killed by a royal knight she picked a fight with (as she tried to drive Luna to suicide), and the oldest sister, Amelia, was killed by a thief who tried to use his friend/partner as a pawn in a scheme to kill her husband and claim his vast riches.
- In Order of the Stick, Roy's father died of old age a few years before the story starts, and it seems that his mother must have died at some point since he meets her in the afterlife. Haley's father is a famous thief who is currently imprisoned in a faraway country, and her mother died when Haley was very young. Elan's mother was a Chaotic Good barmaid who divorced from her husband, a Lawful Evil Overlord, over alignment difference, and she raised Elan while he raised his twin brother Nale. Durkon's parents are unknown, although he seems to have had an uncle who he visited periodically; however, Durkon was banished from the dwarven lands and hasn't seen his uncle since. Vaarsuvius' parents are unknown, and when V hit puberty, V was adopted by a wizard who taught V magic, and then threw V out some time later to see the world. Belkar's parents are unknown, though there IS an aunt mentioned who may be as evil as Belkar.
- Recloak's entire family but for one of his younger siblings were killed in front of him. As for Xykon, well, he is a Self-Made Orphan.
- Elan's father has been recently introduced; on meeting his father for the first time, Elan comments: "Growing up without a father was totally worth it just for that reveal. "
- Megatokyo's Miho has no known relatives, and -- in fact -- lives in the back room of a dance club. Theories as to why this is range from: they died from whatever mysterious disease she currently suffers from to she ate them. Fred Gallagher has been less then helpful.
- Alluded to by Lance in Gold Coin Comics.
- Most of the main characters in Errant Story suffer from Parental Abandonment. Jon and Sara's father was killed by assassins before their mother died of an illness, Meji's Elven father had a fling with her mother on a diplomatic visit and later tried to have her killed upon learning he had fathered a Half-Elf, and Ian's mother was apathetic and neglectful towards her children until she killed herself and Evelyn in a fire.
- Another The Wotch-related example is Alex King from Cheer. Her wealthy parents are still alive, they just don't seem to care. Early on it's revealed that she even receives her allowance by direct deposit, and a Christmas comic depicting the cheerleaders with their families shows her strumming her guitar by herself.
- In No Rest for the Wicked, Clare bleakly speaks of how her parents treated her -- and how she now knows she is no better. (She no longer has her baby with her.)
- The web comic Cwen's Quest starts off with the main character's father throwing them off a cliff so they won't eventually fight with their new sibling. The main character's mother is never mentioned in the series.
- Something Positive manages to mostly avert this except in the case of Jason's dad. The exact story of what happened is never explained but apparently at some point he ran off and left Mrs. Pratchett to care for Jason and his sister alone.
- The Noob parodies this role-playing cliche, when every role-player in the guild has the same tragic past, of having their family raped and murdered by the evil hordes. Cue a cutaway to said evil hordes, who are holding a list of other farms they still have to do today. One of them is so exhausted, he asks if they can at least skip the raping.
- Guttersnipe is a comic about an orphan girl that basically parodies "Little Rascal" style films.
- Inverted somewhat in Misfile. Before the misfile, though he lived with his father, Ash didn't have much of a relationship with him, and had no contact at all with his mother. After the misfile, Ash is shocked to find her father now dotes on his daughter, and that she had reestablished a relationship with her mother.
- Flik's mother in Para-Ten seems to make a habit of this.
- Captain Broadband has an unnamed sidekick whose parents seem to have no trouble leaving him home alone for long periods of time to go on holiday. They pay a rather unnecessary price when they get home to find an eight foot, three hundred pound man having moved himself in without permission.
- Alexander Hamilton in The Dreamer. His dad left his family when he was ten or eight years old, and two years later his mom died of yellow fever.
- Nastajia in The Dreamland Chronicles
- Oddly rare to be played straight in Jack, which deals mainly on death and the afterlife. When present, it's often played with.
- The main character Jack never had parents due to having been created in a scientific experiment; same goes for his love interest Jill.
- Little Megan in a late 2010 arc is stopped in time, thus inable to grow any older, yet lived with her parents until a family friend in the same situation took her away to protect her.
- Zigzagged with Fnar, an innocent unborn, who has two dead parents - who both reside in Hell like he does. He is mainly kept away from them, since Mama's stuck in a dangerous place, and Papa is just dagerous. Later on the trope gets twisted further in the same direction as Fnar is given another chance at life.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, Galatea grew up in a completely unloving environment, the closest thing she had to a father being a scientist who treated her as a lab animal. When she later spawned another creature like herself, she ended up abandoning her. When they are reunited, Galatea shows deep remorse at having been just as rotten a parent as as her "father."
- In Virtual Pet Planet, Benny, the rabbit, is asked about his owner, but avoids the subject entirely.
- In Endstone, after Jon tricks their daughter into helping him, Kyri rescues her and hands her off to her friends so that she can go fight Jon. When they are trapped in time, the daughter grows up without either of them.
- All of the Baker Street Irregulars in Mayonaka Densha seem to be missing at least one parent. Tom's mother gave him up at a very young age, Hatsune's dad disappeared when she was five without so much as a goodbye, leaving her alone with a very cold and emotionless mother, and the whereabouts of Jack and Morris's parents are completely unknown.
- Jessica Queen's father is also absent, explainable though as her mother is a three time divorcee.
- In Blue Yonder, Jared and his sister are alone at the beginning, their parents having already fallen to those chasing them.
- In Erstwhile, All Fur describes her plight as this. It's a euphemism.
- Gamzee of Homestuck developed his fondness for Sopor Pies largely because his Lusus was always at sea. Terezi, on the other hand, had to raise herself because her Lusus had yet to hatch.
- I'm a Marvel And Im ADC lampshades the frequency of this with comic book characters in its Father's Day special. While recording Father's Day messages, Spider-Man asks if any of the superheroes gathered have parents who are actually alive and gets met with nothing but blank stares.
- In Captain Gamer: Digital Defender, main character Kate Gaines has only had her father mentioned -- and that, only as an offhand notice in one paragraph of Backstory!
- More than half the protagonists in Lonelygirl15 have parents who are either dead, missing, members of an evil cult, uncaring, or some combination of the above.
- That Guy With The Glasses spoofs the Disney's way of doing this in Chester A Bum's review.
Bum: But then he is like "Oh my god, I am a parent and married in a Disney film, I'M DOOMED!" and then he dies.
- Occurs quite often in Survival of the Fittest, for various reasons.
- Trevor James Goodkind (who becomes Phase) starts off in the Whateley Universe as a spoiled rich kid, heir to billions, and second in line to take over all of Goodkind International. But the Goodkinds hate and fear mutants (and his mother is clinically mutophobic). When he manifests as a mutant, he is kicked out of the family, disinherited, and then experimented on by a Mad Scientist in a Goodkind Research lab, some of which activities his parents witness. This may be worse than having your parents die.
- There are other examples at the Super-Hero School Whateley Academy. Generator has a deceased mother and a child-abuser criminal father. Carmilla's mother is dead and her father is a demon who can't visit this plane of existence under normal conditions. Bladedancer's parents are both dead, her father having been killed by the demon who is pursuing her to this day. There's also Heyoka, Timeless...
- This is implied to have happened to at least three of the heroes of The Questport Chronicles, further cementing their statuses as broken cuties.
- Having the option to ditch offspring when conditions are too harsh to sustain them is one of the survival advantages of being a marsupial, rather than a placental, mammal. A starving mother kangaroo can leave a joey behind, save herself, and live to breed again when conditions improve.
- Even today, some parents may willingly give up custody of their children if they cannot afford to raise them. Many countries have "safe haven laws" where a parent can leave a child (up to a certain age) at a hospital, clinic, police station, or firehouse and not be charged with child endangerment.