Parental Substitute

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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 isn't around (or ignores them). If the parent is dead, they may have known him 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 Children Raise You (for less willing parental figures), Promotion to Parent (when the parental substitute is a sibling), Like a Son to Me, Team Mom, Team Dad.

Examples of Parental Substitute include:

Anime and Manga

  • Piccolo of Dragonball Z is one to Son Gohan, the offspring of his one-time enemy Son Goku.
  • In Fruits Basket, martial artist Kazuma Sohma takes Kyo in and serves as his father figure. Eventually, he also takes Rin in.
    • And before that, Rin was "rescued" from her Abusive Parents by Kagura and her parents. The rescue of sorts was genuine, but poor Rin was so messed up by her abusive situation that she simply couldn't accept or fit in with a more stable/happy family, and distanced herself from them.
    • Yuki's older brother Ayame offers to act as a literal Parental Substitute, to make up for the years when he was an Aloof Big Brother to Yuki. He seals the deal by showing up the parent-teacher conference and stopping their domineering mother from planning Yuki's whole life. And in time, Yuki realizes that Tohru, though his own age, was more of mother-figure to him than a love interest.
  • Before the events of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Precia's Catgirl familiar Linith takes this role for Fate, showering her with the love that she didn't get from her psychotic mother. Linith eventually dies, fading away after her contract to train Fate and make Bardiche is fulfilled.
  • In Mazinger Z, Dr. Juuzo Kabuto raised his grandsons after their parents died in a lab experiment gone wrong. After his death, Prof. Yumi took Kouji and Shiro in. However Kouji was Shiro's main parental substitute (although somewhat absent, since Kouji had to split his time between taking care of the household chores, going to school and fighting Mechanical Beasts). After the end of the series, Kouji and Sayaka left Japan for a while, and Shiro was left behind in the beginning of Great Mazinger. He was taken in by Professor Kenzo Kabuto, which is ironic, since he his -and Kouji- REAL father. In UFO Robo Grendizer, Dr. Umon found and took Duke Fleed in, treating him like his son.
  • In Basilisk, male lead Gennosuke Koga is raised and trained by both his grandfather Danjou and his maternal uncle Hyouma Muroga, who was just out of his teens when he took up the role. His girlfriend Oboro, on the other hand, is raised by a nanny (who later dies) and her grandmother Ogen. Also, Oboro's fellow Iga ninja Koushirou was pretty much raised by his Evil Mentor, Tenzen.
  • In Naruto, Iruka Umino couldn't forgive Naruto for a long time since he was the living seal for the Kyuubi, which killed his parents. As years passed, though, Iruka slowly came to appreciate Naruto for the person he was, realized that aside of the Kyuubi issue they were Not So Different, and by the time the series starts he acts like a surrogate father to him.
    • Kurenai Yuuhi acts as a surrogate mother to Hinata, after Hinata's strict father all but abandons her.
  • In Axis Powers Hetalia, China raises some of the East Asian nations, but they see him more as a brother than a father. In fact, Korea refers to China as "Aniki" ("Bro"), a rather informal term for "older brother": this is pretty important since the others don't fully acknowledge China as a brother - Japan and Macau call him "Mr. China" while Taiwan and Hong Kong refer to him as "teacher".
    • Same with England and young America. Despite what bash-happy might tell you, they also have an older brother/younger brother relationship, with America at first calling England "onii-chan" and later telling him that they're not brothers anymore.
    • To a degree, Hungary and Austria were like this towards North Italy when he was a young child. Also Spain, to South Italy.
  • In Shoulder a Coffin Kuro, the titular heroine and her sidekick come across a pair of very young and very naive twin girls and bring the two along on their journey. They find themselves having to run herd on the kids quite a bit, as well as teaching them about the outside world.
  • Pokémon is especially bad about this, with insane amounts of one-shot characters clearly being raised by a (often same-gendered) grandparent. With the original main cast, we also had Brock who experienced double Parental Abandonment, and got promoted to parent for all of his younger siblings. Reversed with Misty, whose parents are mysteriously not in the picture and her older sisters are the ones who got the promotion instead and they're not good at it at all. Also, Gary is the only recurring character to have the "raised by a single grandparent" thing. Fleshed out a bit in the manga, where it's revealed that both his biological parents are dead.
    • Of the main protagonists, only May and Max have both their parents, but Brock and Cilan do have siblings. Of course that's something that's recurring with the games as well.
  • Happens a lot in One Piece as most of the characters are orphaned or abandoned at a young age. The most powerful example would have to be Nami's foster mother Bellemere who sacrificed herself for her daughters because she refused to deny that they were hers.
    • Tons of others worth noting, though. It happens so often it practically invites you to speculate on what Oda's childhood home life was like.
      • Luffy towards Shanks, since his father's busy with his "job", and his grandfather was a well-intentioned yet really bad parental figure. They were so close, many thought they would be revealed as actual father and son. Luffy and Ace both also had a foster mother in their youth, again because Luffy's dad was gone and his grandpa simply couldn't it in parental-like shoes despite caring for them. Ace also finds this with his captain Whitebeard, since his father, whom he deeply resented anyway, is dead.
    • Franky towards Tom, before...stuff happened...
    • There's also Sanji and Zeff, Robin and both Clover and Saul, maybe Zoro and the dojo owner, Chopper and Hiriluk... in fact, the only two members of the main crew that don't appear to have ever had a parental substitute of some sort are Usopp and Brook.
  • In Vampire Knight, Yuki has Cross as her adopted father and to an extent, also Kaname.
  • In the Captain Tsubasa manga, Misugi's girlfriend Yayoi (who is stated to be a nursing student in university) temporarily becomes this to Hyuga's younger siblings when Hyuuga's mother becomes seriously sick and, due to his conflicts at work, he can't take care of them. Hyuuga himself was one of these and still is to a degree, since his father perished when he was 10 years old and he insisted on working part-time to help his widowed mother raise the younger kids.
  • The Baba Yaga arc of Soul Eater revealed that Sid took in Black Star after the Star Clan was destroyed by Shibusen. However, not much has been made of this relationship in a parent-child sense, though it's evident Sid looks out for Black Star. If his methods do seem a little odd at times. The reveal made sense, given the attitude towards Black Star taken by both the meister and his partner Nygus.
    • Continued in principle by Black Star taking Angela back to Shibusen. More likely to be 'big brother' than 'parent' given the age difference, but Shinigami agreed she'd be looked after, and most importantly the thought was there.
  • Minamoto, the male Team Mom from Zettai Karen Children, is one of the best examples of this trope in recent memory.
    • Kyousuke, his anti-villain counterpart, is this even more for his followers, at least those who are still pre-adolescent.
  • Oboe is the Parental Substitute for Hamel in Violinist of Hameln. It is not obvious for a long, long time, thanks to the Hamel's extreme Jerkass Facade and Oboe mostly keeping in the background (not without a reason), but in the end Hamel even directly states that Oboe is only being he'll ever call "father" when confronting his Big Bad biological parent.
  • Bear in .hack//Sign is pretty much the Team Mom. In the real world, he grieves at his broken relationship with his own son, and in the end of the series becomes Tsukasa's real self legal guardian.
  • Although Nagi wishes he were more of a boyfriend, Hayate seems to be playing this role for her in Hayate the Combat Butler. Maria is her mother figure, though the role originally seemed to be that of big sister.
    • Hinagiku and Yukiji found the Katsura's to be both willing Parental Substitute and get to play the Happily Adopted card when their parents dropped a large debt on them and disappeared.
    • In the character profiles, Sakuya is said to have been raised by her two butlers and her nurse, instead of her parents, while also serving as the parents to her siblings.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, it's mentioned that even before their mom died, and especially after, the Rockbells' home was a home to the Elrics' as well.
    • Izumi Curtis also seems to consider the Elrics to be surrogate sons... not that this means she's ever going to go easy on them.
    • There's also plenty of fanfic that promotes Roy Mustang to father figure for any of the teenage protagonists.
    • In the 2003 anime version, Sloth is this to Wrath.
  • In Bleach, Kenpachi could be seen as this to Yachiru.
  • In the Hellsing manga and OVA, Alucard acts a little to a father surrogate and mentor to Seras Victoria, who is orphan and has lived in orphanages since her parents' terrible deaths. Integra Hellsing also fills in as Team Mom on occasion (at the ending is more prominent when literally she lectures Seras as if a child) when she's not having Les Yay with her.
    • Hell, even the Les Yay moments made her seem motherly; feeding Seras her blood from her index finger as a mother would feed a baby from their...well, nipple. The way Integra spoke to Seras in the manga during that scene was also very motherly.
  • Misato Katsuragi is definitely this to Shinji Ikari (and to a lesser extent, to Asuka Langley Soryu), although in an unusual variation he seems to end up taking care of her just as often. (And, because this is Eva and things can't be nice and simple, there is a whiff of Unresolved Sexual Tension thrown into the mix....)
  • Quatre from Gundam Wing has four of these: the four highest-ranked members of the Magnac corps, led by Team Dad Rashid.
  • Dan'l Baboon from Kimba the White Lion acts as a father figure to the title character.
  • Daikichi of Bunny Drop acts as the father figure of Rin, the little girl he took in and raised. He also becomes the father figure of a boy named Kouki, so much so that Kouki proudly declares that he would be happy for Daikichi to be his father, and when his mother does remarry, he still considers Daikichi more like his dad than his actual step-father.
  • Hiko Seijuro XIII can be seen as parental substitute to orphaned Kenshin, who he rescued, renamed and took under his wings in age of 8. Hiko may be too proud to admit it, but it’s clear he cares for his baka deshi and will return from retirement to help him.
    • Kaoru tries to be this to Yahiko, an ex Street Urchin whom she and Kenshin rescued from being a orderline child slave to low-ranked delinquents. It doesn't always work.
    • Similarly, Okina was a grand-parental substitute to Misao.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Yusei, Crow and Jack were taken in by Martha when they were young. Crow himself becomes one to several children.
  • In Gundam Seed Destiny, Gilbert Durandal is maybe Rey's adoptive father, but at least he is a parental figure for both Rey and Shinn. It can be interpreted as manipulation, but he appears to genuinely love them. He actually forgives Ray for shooting him, as in "forgive just before dying".

Comic Books

  • Batman is chock full of Parental Substitute goodness. Alfred Pennyworth serves as a father-substitute for Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne serves as a father-substitute for Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake (for whom Dick Grayson also serves as a bit of a brother-figure).
    • Bruce/Batman is also a father substitute for Cassandra Cain (Batgirl II), who also has a mother substitute in Barbara Gordon (Batgirl I/Oracle).
    • Alfred has, through the years, gone back and forth between an objective servant to an adoptive-father-figure and back, depending on the writer. However, it's become very common to portray him as an amalgam of the two - officially a servant, but acting as Bruce's surrogate father. This is shown strongly by Alfred being the only one who can tell Bruce off without any repercussions, and is openly stated by Alfred in the recent "Battle for the Cowl" arc:

Superman: Alfred, are you alright?
Alfred: Alright?... No, sir, I'm not... my son has died.

      • Bruce acknowledges this as well; in a Batman and the Outsiders special following Batman RIP, Bruce has left a prerecorded message for Alfred in case of his death where he calls Alfred his second father, and takes the opportunity to say "Goodbye, Dad".
      • In the first issue of Superman/Batman, Clark's thoughts are about how complicated the relationship between Bruce and Alfred is, and that even he can't understand it completely.
    • It seems that now Dick has become promoted to father of Batman's Anti-Hero son, Damian.
    • Leslie Thompkins is occasionally referred to as a mother figure by Bruce.
    • Jim Gordon is sometimes played up as this as well - particularly in one episode of the animated series where Batman says that part of his close connection with Gordon is because Gordon is approximately the same age Thomas Wayne would be were he still alive. As for Alfred, Batman R.I.P. stresses it to the point where the possibility is raised that Alfred might be Bruce Wayne's true father, if the scandalous rumors spread by the Black Glove are to be believed.
    • Damian Wayne, Bruce's son, is starting to see Dick Grayson as a mix of an older brother and a father. Especially after his mother Talia was actually cloning him and deemed him not perfect enough and kicked him out of the Al Ghul's house.
    • Batman's frequent role as a surrogate father-figure was ultimately deconstructed with Stephanie Brown (Spoiler/Batgirl III). Stephanie was the daughter of the criminal Cluemaster and went into costumed crime-fighting to oppose him, and eventually gravitated into the Bat-family, but after she became Batgirl she realized that Bruce had been a horrible father figure (She even slapped him). She criticized him on all the manipulation that he put her through, as well as the generally condescending and dismissive attitude he had, and pointed out that the improvements she has made in her life were in spite of him, not because of him.
  • During Marvel's Civil War, Tony "Iron Man" Stark and Peter "Spider-Man" Parker fell into a father/son relationship, until Peter realized what a fascist douche-bag Tony was and tried to rebel against Stark's "final solution" to the superhuman menace. After that, they stopped seeing eye-to-eye.
    • Spider-Man is of course filled to the brim with parental substitutes, starting of course with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. After Ben Parker's murder, the irascible J. Jonah Jameson came to assume a quasi-paternal role, eventually playing "bad surrogate dad" to Joe Robertson's "good surrogate dad" (however Jonah, even though he is a notorious skinflint, footed the bill for Peter and Mary Jane's wedding). Gwen Stacy's father, Captain George Stacy, also took a kindly father approacht to Peter (deducing his identity with Spider-Man) until his untimely death. In later years reporter Ben Urich, Ezekiel, and detective Lamont would all take a fatherly attitudes to him. Not so many mother substitutes, although Betty and Gwen did have a tendency to mother the seemingly shy and insecure Peter Parker, and Aunt Anna functioned as a surrogate mother to Mary Jane.
      • In the movie adaptations, Norman Osborn tried to become Peter's paternal substitute in the first one, while there was an element of "father and son" to that between Otto Octavius and Peter Parker in the second one.
  • In John Byrne's Alpha Flight, Shaman is the father-figure to Snowbird (a six-year-old adult), which is ironic considering his relationship with his real daughter. The daughter's baby-sitter and parental/big sister substitute Heather later on became the leader of Alpha Flight, after her husband (the original leader) died. Her husband has been a father substitute for Wolverine, of all people.
  • X-Men Professor Xavier gave this the original five, but especially serves as a father substitute for Cyclops.
    • Wolverine has a tendency to become this to young teammates, especially female ones (Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jubilee), but also e. g. to Colossus (in a more "tough love" kind of way).
    • Also from the X-Men, there's foundling Nightcrawler and his adoptive gypsy family, and his kinda-stepsister Rogue, raised by supervillain couple Mystique and Destiny after running away from home.
  • Doctor Strange has served as this for the Incredible Hulk's simple and childlike Savage Hulk incarnation.
  • The Avengers has Hawkeye and Captain America (comics), which has been alluded to several times in canon. Hawkeye, who had an abusive, alcoholic father and several irresponsible successors of that field, unconsciously sees Captain America as a father figure. This is highlighted whenever Hawkeye has a tough time and Cap is there to give him a pep talk or lecture. The earliest examples of the relationship, in fact, took place as soon as Hawkeye joined the team. He jokingly called Cap "dad" and Cap felt a responsibility to look after him. It doesn't help that Stan Lee initially intended for Hawkeye to be Cap's long-lost illegitimate son.
  • Donald Duck to Huey, Louie and Dewey, and Uncle Scrooge to all four of them. Being raised by uncles or aunts is seen as such a big Disney convention that German Duck fans even coined a pseudo-scholarly term for the process: Veronkelung ("uncleification").
  • In the Runaways series, Nico and Karolina serve this function for Molly and Klara, particularly in the last arc, "Home Schooling", in which Old Lace dies and Chase abandons the team.
  • In the original Spider-Woman series, Charles Magnus serves this role for Jessica Drew.
  • In Gail Simone's Secret Six series, Bane comically tries to become a father figure to Scandal after she becomes depressed about the loss of her beloved Knockout.

Films -- Animated

Films -- Live-Action

  • In ET the Extraterrestrial, E.T. himself (itself?) serves as a two-pronged Parental Substitute, offering fatherly advice and motherly attention simultaneously.
  • Part of what makes Aliens so touching is Ripley's 'adoption' of Newt. Ripley, being frozen for 50+ years, lost her daughter, and Newt's family were killed by the Xenomorphs, so the two fill the empty spaces in each other's lives.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800 Terminator serves as a father-figure for John Connor. Lampshaded when Sarah Conner notes that the killing machine is a better father for John than any of her old "boyfriends".
  • Cloak and Dagger features super-spy Jack Flack, an imaginary mentor who amazingly enough looks like Davey Osborne's real dad.
  • In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jin fills this role in the life of young Anakin Skywalker. Then Qui-Gon dies at the end, leaving Obi-Wan Kenobi to step in as a substitute Parental Substitute. Later, Obi-Wan and Anakin become more like brothers. Though, it's worth noting that perhaps in a strange, twisted way, Watto was also almost akin to a father-figure to Anakin. Almost.
  • Agammenon in Time Bandits. Unlike Kevin's slothful, stupid, greedy parents, he watches out for Kevin and instructs him.
  • Tom Sawyer acquires one of these in Allan Quatermain during the course of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
  • Siblings Eomer and Eowyn from Lord of the Rings look at their uncle Theoden as this. Frodo has his Uncle Bilbo and Gandalf too.
  • Maria Kutschera from The Sound of Music in became one of these towards the von Trapp children and officially became their mother once she married their father.
  • In Finding Neverland, the Llewelyn Davies boys increasingly look to James Barrie as a father figure.
  • In Secondhand Lions, young Walter ends up getting raised by his two great uncles, Hub and Garth.
  • Uncle Ben is this to Peter Parker in the Spider Man films.
  • Babe the pig is adopted by Fly, a sheepdog. When Fly's pups were put up for sale and she was heartbroken, Babe comforted her by asking if he could call her Mom, which she said yes.
  • In Tron: Legacy, after Kevin disappeared, his friend Alan take over this role for Sam. It is made more prominent during the news montage after Kevin's disappearance, Alan looked like he was going to go Papa Wolf on the news reporters hounding a young Sam.
  • In the film Dark City, Dr. Shrieber literally injects himself into protagonist John Murdoch's life via an "imprint", creating memories of a father figure who taught Murdoch the skills that he uses to fight the Strangers.
  • Lilli in Snow White a Tale of Terror was raised by a nurse, who was an acceptable substitute for her mother. Lilli holds Nannau's death against her stepmother.


  • Celia and Tam Lin in House of the Scorpion who are Matt's caretaker and bodyguard respectively, are pretty much his Parental Substitutes, since being a clone, he has no parents, unless you count his original's parents, which would be technically, but they have been dead for over a century.
  • Tamora Pierce: What with her penchant for killing off/extremely distant parents, it only makes sense that...
    • Alanna has Coram, who likes to remind her of the fact that he changed her diapers
      • Myles also takes the role too during Alanna's training and would eventually adopt her as his daughter.
    • Daine gets "mothered" by three different women: Queen Thayet, K'mir warrior Buri, and horse trader Onua.
    • Kel's parents are not dead, but she spends all of her adolescence separated from them. Lord Raoul, her knight-master, essentially pulls her through the crappy, 15–18 years.
      • Kel herself to Tobe.
    • The four main characters in the Circle of Magic series are raised by two women who, after a time, they refer to as their 'foster mothers.'
  • Harry Potter is crawling with Parental Substitutes. Nearly every adult who has any interaction with Harry is a Parental Substitute, especially Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Arthur & Molly Weasley. And because this is Harry Potter things don't end well for all but the last two.
    • Harry's friends are not immune either. Neville Longbottom is raised by his grandmother due to his parents having been tortured to madness by Death Eaters. Harry himself also becomes one to Teddy Lupin. Although he seems to be living with his grandmother, he often visits the Potter-family.
      • More stories of this are told for reoccuring background characters like Susan Bones who seems to have also been raised by her grandmother as nearly her entire family were killed by Deatheaters
  • Running a galactic government and occasionally saving it alongside one's scoundrel husband leaves little time for parenting, as the children of Han Solo and Princess Leia learn. Much of their parenting is done by Leia's longtime friend and aide Winter Celchu.
  • John Cleaver's therapist in I Am Not a Serial Killer acts like a father figure for John.
  • JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion feature many parental substitutes: Bilbo (for Frodo), Th éoden (for Eomer, Eowyn and arguably Merry), Elrond (for Aragorn), Maglor (for Elrond and Elros), Annael (for Tuor), Thingol (for Turin) etc. Maglor's fostering of Elrond and Elros is perhaps especially notable in that Maglor had been (twice, reluctantly) involved in the slaughter of the boys' family before that, and that he had contributed to their mother's attempted suicide...
  • In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, this features twice in the orphaned Harry's Backstory. Justin exploited his need for one. Afterward, Ebneazer did a much better job of it; he is still protective of Harry and deploys such tropes as So Proud of You.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Chessman Of Mars, U-Thor received a slave woman from his jeddak; he freed and married her, and regards the son she bore the jeddak, A-Kor, as like a son to him. When the jeddak, a Royal Brat, has A-Kor imprisoned out of fear and envy, U-Thor demands an accounting.

I have made of her a free woman, and I have married her and made her thus a princess of Manatos. Her son is my son, O-Tar, and though thou be my jeddak, I say to you that for any harm that befalls A-Kor you shall answer to U-Thor of Manatos.

    • Also, in the earlier books Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars Tars Tarkas, Tardos Mors, and Mors Kajak are implied to have served this role for John Carter's son, Carthoris, after Carter was returned to Earth.
  • In Wuthering Heights, Nellie Dean serves as a parent to the second generation. As both children lost their mothers practically in childbirth, Nellie is the only mother either has ever known.
  • In The Witches of Karres, Captain Pausert fills this roll for Goth and The Leewit while they are sailing with him.
  • In A Little Princess, Sara becomes this to Lottie.
  • In the novel Malevil, the main character Emmanuel is adopted by his uncle Samuel after he runs away from home. Samuel is far more of a father to Emmanuel then his cowardly, hen-pecked brother Simon ever was.
  • Halt from Ranger's Apprentice is a father-figure to both Will and Horace. It comes up several times in the books that Will and Halt think of each other as father and son.
  • Peter is very much Neal Caffrey's Parental Substitute, teaching him about how to be a responsible member of society and by coincidence giving him a less anti-social outlet to his thrill seeking impulses.
  • Septimus Heap: Marcia Overstrand is this to Septimus, according to Word of God.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere An Autumn Tale, Lindsey contrasts Lucian's pride in her to her own father.
  • Jeeves and Wooster: Since the issue of Man Child Bertie Wooster having parents is never dwelt on, there are plenty of implications that he regards Jeeves as something of a father figure. Jeeves, for his part, is often noted to cast a "paternal" eye on Bertie's antics.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, Freckles acquires two: McLean is a father figure, and Mrs. Duncan as a mother figure who assures him that she loves him like a son and weeps over how desperately he needs the affection.
  • Fyodor Karamazov cares little for any of his three sons; young Dimitri goes half-naked and unfed until Grigory steps in and virtually raises him himself; Ivan and Alexei are adopted by their uncle Miusov.
  • George serves as this to Lennie in Of Mice and Men
  • Mrs. Alowo becomes this to her orphaned students in Someone Elses War.
  • After her parents go to war in A Dirge for Prester John, Sefelet is cared for by Vyala, her mother's friend's mother. They appear to bond more than Sefalet did to her real parents.

Live-Action TV

  • Buffy's father has little contact with her, even after her mother dies, but Giles serves as a surrogate father. In "Helpless," another character describes Giles as having "a father's love" for Buffy.
    • Especially noticeable when a spell causes Buffy to decide to get married and she ask Giles to give her away.
    • Willow and Xander are similar, as well. Willow's parents are away for months at a time and have virtually abandoned her, rarely seeing her at all. Xander's parents are drunk and too busy yelling at each other to notice him most of the time. Giles often serves as a surrogate father to them both.
    • The Mayor takes a similar role for Faith after her Face Heel Turn.
      • In the comics, Giles does for Faith what he did for Buffy.
  • On Star Trek: Voyager, little Naomi Wildman's father is 70,000 light years away when she is born, so several of the male crewmembers try to fill a paternal role in her life, usually her godfather Neelix.
    • You could also argue that Captain Janeway serves as a positive parent to young Kes, rehumaned Seven of Nine, B'Elanna Torres (whose father abandoned her), Tom Paris (ditto, just not physically), and Harry Kim (made even more pronounced in "Endgame").
      • Lampshaded in "Barge of the Dead" (where B'Elanna's mother appears in a vision wearing a Starfleet captain's uniform) and "Dark Frontier" where Janeway 'tucks Seven into bed' (plugs her into her Borg alcove) after she wins the custody battle rescues Seven from the Borg Queen.
    • Seven of Nine later became this to four creepy-ass borg children they rescued. She wasn't very good at it.
      • She wasn't terrible either. Their interaction was as much about Seven's continued Character Development as the kids', if not more.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles featured several father figures for John Connor, including Charlie Dixon and Derek Reese. (Of course, since Derek is John's uncle, his falling into such a role is kind of natural.)
  • Since John Winchester of Supernatural spent a lot of time away from his boys when they were young, and then died at the beginning of the show's second season, fellow hunter Bobby Singer has served as Sam and Dean's adviser, backup, and primary father figure throughout the series. They referred to him as "Uncle Bobby" when they were children, and Dean even says on two occasions (in season three's "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and season four's "Lazarus Rising") that Bobby's been like a father to him. For his part, Bobby seems to see the boys as surrogate sons, saying in the season three finale "No Rest for the Wicked" that "family don't end with blood."
  • In The Big Bang Theory, Man Child Sheldon often views Penny as a substitute for his mother (who is alive, just lives away from him); he wants her to take care of him when he's sick, or sing him a lullaby. This is especially emphasized in the episode "The Guitarist Amplification", when Sheldon runs away to the comic book store, because he can't bear Leonard and Penny fighting, and Penny makes it up to him by buying him a robot and a comic book.
    • Leonard takes on a fatherly role at times: taking care of his transportation needs, shopping for food and clothing, making sure he goes to bed on time and is often the one he goes to for advice on relationship matters. When he and Penny were dating they served as surrogate parents, when they broke up Sheldon was like a child in a divorce. That led to a lot of Does This Remind You of Anything? dialogue as Leonard and Penny renew their friendship for Sheldon's sake.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures, it is revealed that Sarah Jane's parents died when she was only three months old, and she was raised by her Aunt Lavinia. Exactly how much of a mother figure Lavinia was is somewhat debatable, as Sarah Jane once described her as "always so busy, never in one place long enough to lick a stamp." It can be argued, of course, that that doesn't necessarily mean that she was uncaring or uninvolved. In fact, the pilot for the failed spin-off series K9 & Company gives us a small glimpse into their relationship, and they do generally seem to care about one another.
    • There's no denying that Maria and her mother love each other dearly, but Chrissie is, to put it bluntly, a massive flake. Sarah Jane winds up picking up the slack and becomes the mother-figure Maria needs.
    • From the mother series, Ace's father is never mentioned, and she has a bad relationship with her mother, so the Doctor ends up becoming a father figure to her.
  • Dorota is more of a mother to Blair on Gossip Girl than Eleanor Waldorf is. Lily tries to be this for Chuck, but she's barely a parent to her biological children so...
  • Gideon to Reid in Criminal Minds. So when Gideon quits, Reid experiences the second loss of a father in his life.
  • Full House is somewhat based in this trope. Uncle Jesse and Joey move in to help Danny raise his daughters after the mom dies in a car accident, thus becoming additional father figures in the girls' lives. Later, Jesse gets married and Aunt Becky takes on the role of mom substitute.
  • Sweets from Bones was adopted by an elderly couple, but both died before he began working with Bones and Booth. After Season 4, he begins to see Booth as a father figure and also Bones something like a sister.
  • Gibbs is pretty explicitly this to Ziva - during the episode "Dead Air," Tony and McGee have been teasing her about not knowing much about baseball. At the end of the episode, this exchange ensues:

McGee: Well, look at this! She do know a little somethin' 'bout baseball, huh?
Ziva: Yeah. My father taught me.
Gibbs: *face-splitting grin*

    • Gibbs expresses his side at the end of the episode "Safe Harbor", after giving her some fatherly advice.

Ziva: Are you lonely Gibbs?
Gibbs: You're never lonely when you have kids. (Kisses her on the forehead) Goodnight, kid.

      • There's some Fridge Brilliance in the relationship if you know that Ziva is the age Gibbs' daughter would have been if she hadn't been killed.
    • To a lesser extent, Gibbs to Tony. Tony does care for his real father (even after finding out he was/is a con artist) but doesn't really need his approval. Disappointing Gibbs is something that bothers him immensely, and when Gibbs gives him a So Proud of You comment, you can see Tony practically swell.
  • In "Stargate SG-1" Samantha Carter acts as a mother-figure for Cassandra. Even after Dr. Fraisier adopts Cassandra, the girl retains a strong attachment to Sam. O'Niell also acts as a second father-figure for Skaara (though it might be more fair to say that Skaara acts as a surrogate son for O'Neill, who's son accidently killed himself with O'Neill's gun.
  • On Leverage, Archie was this to Parker as a teenager even calling himself her father. Nate and Sophie also have elements of this towards both Parker and Hardison.
  • Peter to Neal in White Collar. Peter is always giving Neal "shape up" lectures, but at the same time has an affection and protective feeling toward him, and Neal starts looking to Peter for guidance.
  • In the first season of The X-Files Deep Throat is something of a father substitute for Mulder even though Mulder's father is still alive at this point.
  • Gaius for Merlin on Merlin. He did meet his real father briefly, but Balinor died before the ep was over. And his mom is still in Ealdor.
  • Gil Grissom to Warrick Brown on CSI. Warrick talks a lot about it in the video found after his death. "If I could have chosen my father, I would have chosen Gil Grissom" or something close to that.
  • Bobby Singer on Supernatural seems to have been this to a small extent even when the boys were kids. He is, for example, the only person who ever took Dean out to play ball. He'd been estranged from the family for a while when the series started, reentered toward the end of Season One because everyone they were actually in contact with had been killed off. Then John died. Two seasons later the first episode has Dean saying, "you're about the closest thing I have to a father," and in season six the phrase "it needs the father's blood, but the father need not be blood" sends Soulless Sam hunting Bobby through his own house in the attempt to commit patricide.
    • That latter episode gave us the hilarious Fridge Horror line "Nobody kills me in my house but me!"
    • The midseason finale of season seven killed Bobby off, and he spent a whole episode dying in a fascinating Battle in the Center of the Mind way. The boys handled it better than losing John, but they have had a lot of practice since then. The loss has been devastating, and unlike the loss of John it's been as devastating in practical ways as it has been emotionally, because Bobby was always there for them, whereas they'd been coping without John in various ways for ages, and almost completely for a few years.
  • Clarke is this to Madi in The 100 during the time skip between seasons 4 and 5. By the time we catch up with them, Madi's gone all the way to Happily Adopted.


  • In Greek myth, 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 Dionysius was raised by the mortal woman Ino and her husband, 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 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.

Video Games

  • Auron to Tidus in Final Fantasy X's backstory, and to a lesser extent during the game itself.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: Lighning is this for Hope. Although it could be seen as a Cool Big Sis relationship, they only act like this after Hope's mother's death, and she spends much of the story being his Resentful Guardian.
  • Naked Snake, in Metal Gear Solid 3, answers Eva's question about his relationship with the Boss by saying that she was like his mother.
  • Mira Kagami in Tokimeki Memorial is revealed to be unable to join clubs because she's the eldest of five children in a poor household, her father died, and she has to help her mother to take care of her much younger brothers. All of the times Mira cancels dates with you? One of the kids is an Ill Boy and she must take care of him. She's good at sewing? She fixes the kids's clothes to aid Mrs. Kagami. She doesn't let you walk her home? She doesn't want you to find out she's not the Rich Bitch she pretends to be at school.
  • Jak and Daxter don't have any parents to speak of (until the third game, at least), and Samos is the one who raised them.
  • In Disgaea, the late King Krichevskoy acted as one to the orphan Etna, taking pity and raising her as a daughter.
  • Mass Effect 2 features a really bizarre version of this. Shepard recovers a "perfect" krogan that was created via cloning, but is essentially born in front of his/her eyes. While the creation process taught him things, and Grunt is fully grown, he obviously has no role model—krogan or otherwise—except for Shepard. After his loyalty mission, this relationship becomes clearer that Shepard is Grunt's mentor.
    • If you don't play Shepard as a potential love interest, the same sort of dynamic appears with Tali during her loyalty mission, especially that hug. Mixed with Cool Big Sis if Shepard is a woman.
  • Very little "parenting" in the Kingdom Hearts series is done by the unseen biological parents of any of the characters. Master Eraqus serves as a mentor and father figure to Aqua and Terra, who themselves can be seen as older siblings or parental figures in Ven's life (the Japanese version of Birth by Sleep has Scrooge give Ven three tickets and telling him to bring "his parents" along; he gives them to Aqua and Terra). Later on in-universe, Axel's extremely over-protective behavior towards his best friend Roxas is revealed to be the result of Axel basically raising him, once again blurring the line between a big brother and father figure in Roxas's life.
  • Happens frequently in any Fire Emblem game.
    • Fire Emblem Jugdral: In the Seisen game Ayra takes her nephew Shanan out of Isaac on request of her older brother Crown Prince Mariccle, before their kingdom gets destroyed in the war. Later, Adean and Oifaye take Shanan in as well as many other children, including Oifaye's cousin Celice and Adean's own children Lana and Lester. Trabant is a darker example, as he killed Altenna's parents before taking her in as his war spoil; at the same time, his retainer Hannibal takes care of a young boy named Corple (or his Expy Sharlow in case Corple's mother Sylvia died childless.
      • In the Thracia game, Evayle aka the amnesiac Briggid is this to Leaf, Nanna and Mareeta; the first two also have a father figure in Fin, who was a retainer to Leaf and Altena's dead parents (and is all but stated to be Nanna's birth father). Selphina is said to have become this in the ending, taking care of war orphans; this would get her called "Mother of Thracia" after her death.
    • Fire Emblem Elibe: Douglas is this to the dancer Lalam. Lugh and Chad also mention a kindhearted priest who raised them until he died in the hand of Bernese troops and who may or may not have been Lucius. Twenty years earlier, during Blazing Sword, Pent and Louise are parental figures for the magician Erk, whose real parents are never mentioned, while his potential Love Interest Priscilla was raised by House Caerleon.
    • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: Pontifex Mansel from Rausten raises his niece L'Arachel after the death of her parents. Franz, the fledgling knight of Renais, was revealed in his support conversations to have been brought up by his older brother Forde.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Lloyd is not short of these. He was adopted by the dwarf Drik and sees Regal as a brother or father figure. Kratos also starts to fit this, until it's revealed that he's not a substitute but instead the real thing.
  • This also comes up in Tales of Vesperia, and mainly serves to make The Reveal that Raven is Schwann and has been working for Alexei the whole time even more of a Tear Jerker. Luckily, he gets better.

Karol: Damn it, I really liked you, Raven. I couldn't tell you before, but if my dad were--
Schwann: How unfortunate, "Raven" isn't here.


  • Agatha Heterodyne, the titular Girl Genius, was raised by Adam and Lilith Clay[1] after the supposedly tragic deaths of her parents and the disappearance of her uncle Barry.
    • The Castle Wulfenbach kids had a similar relationship with Otilia Von Pinn, construct with mind from a clank made by Van Rijn ("the greatest Spark of all time") in the body made by Lucrezia Mongfish (Agatha's biological mother, who went dangerously insane beyond common Mad Scientist level either not long before or soon after Agatha's birth), who seem to have been in a foul mood for as long as she was stuck in a part-organic body. They got rather attached to her[2].
  • Given that the titular character's biological family moved to the United Kingdom in the comic's prologue Coming Up Violet one-ups this trope by having an entire substitute family for Ms. Oaks, complete with a mother, father, and two sisters.
  • In Last Res0rt, the powerful Vaeo Family is made up of Vince, his daughter Cypress, and their cousins / nephews Nate and Damien, even though Vince will refer to and treat all three like his children.
  • In Order of the Stick, Elan sees Roy this way, though Roy sees him as more of an annoyance. The third row down of this comic is a beautiful example.
  • Antimony Carver of Gunnerkrigg Court has four substitute fathers. First is her gym teacher, who used to date her mother. Then there's Reynardine, a fox spirit, who was in love with her mother. Coyote is more of a crazy uncle, but he is still protective of her. Oh, and her actual dad should show up eventually.
  • Toshubi is becoming this to Jessica.
  • In Something*Positive, Davan initially believed he might be Rory's biological father, but a DNA test proves otherwise. The real father doesn't step up, though, so Davan becomes Rory's father figure anyway. In one recent strip he admits he wishes he was Rory's father.
  • In Tnemrot, Dae is like this for Mia, who actually has a father, he just flat out ignores her.
  • Obadai alternates between this and Trickster Mentor with respect to Elysia in Rumors of War.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Mr. Verres is this for Grace when she moves in with the Verres. Previously Damien was an Abusive Parental Substitute to her and before that Dr. Sciuridae took care of her because she was his Replacement Goldfish though Grace views him as a grandfather. The only real biological parent Grace ever had to care for her was Mr. Guyur (who was killed by Damien) as the other biological parents were either already dead when she was born or non-sapient.

Grace: You're like a father to me!
Mr. Verres: ...But you're my son's girlfriend.
Grace: We're a strange family.

Commander: Hey kid, how about from now on before you put anything else in that bag you pretend y' hear your dad's voice in yer head sayin' "Do you really need this?"
Jared: My dad never cared about me enough to give me stern fatherly advice like that.
Commander: Okay, look't me now, Jared. Do ya really need this? Really?

  • The original 4 characters of Homestuck have several examples of this, including Dave's older brother and Bequerel, Jade's dog. The subversion is that Dave's brother really is his genetic father through the paradox that is ectobiology, while John's father is actually his half-brother.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond functions as this to Terry McGinnis until the reveal that he is Terry's real father because of a crazy governmental genetics program.
  • Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender finds his parental substitute in his eccentric Badass Grandpa uncle, Iroh.
  • On The Fairly OddParents, Cosmo and Wanda act more paternal than his amazingly neglectful parents could ever hope to.
  • Starfire's "Knorfka" Galfore, who raised her from childhood. Her and Blackfire's parents are never mentioned in the series.
    • Of course, the comic books are another story. Koriand'r's (and, naturally, Komand'r's and Riand'r's) parents are alive and well and living on Tamaran.
  • Ye-Ye in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, who seems to be the only family member she lives with. Her parents never appear on the show. Kai-Lan's grandfather is always there when she needs him, and he helps both Kai-Lan and her friends when they need it.
  • While Brock is a Papa Wolf to both of the boys in The Venture Bros, Season 4 has made it evident that Hank look towards Brock as this. It's slightly tragic when you take into consideration that Hank is The Unfavorite with his actual dad.
  • Rather cruelly subverted (but Played for Laughs at the same time) in Futurama: Farnsworth is the closest thing to family Fry has (he's Fry's very distant great-nephew), and Fry has a grandfather-like relationship with him. Except instead of being a Good Parent, Farnsworth is neglectful, abusive and a harmless sort of way.
    • Also subverted in that Farnsworth seems to view the technically-several-thousand-years-old Fry as the caretaker in their relationship, and so his behavior toward Fry is like that of a bratty know-it-all teenager.
    • In the episode "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings", Bender acts as a parental substitute to Fry, going so far as to attend his holophone recital and yell at the teacher when she drops Fry as a student.

Bender: Sometimes I wish your real parents were alive. [Hugs Fry] Not often though.

  • Twilight Sparkle to baby dragon Spike in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. It is revealed in "Cutie Mark Chronicles" that she was the one who hatched his egg making her his mother for all intents and purposes.
    • And Princess Celestia to Twilight, since she effectively adopted her.
      • According to Lauren Faust, Spike's original backstory had him raised by Celestia as well, which makes a little more sense than a filly like Twilight raising him at the time.
        • Possibly Subverted, as Lauren herself said that this is merely a concept that was never officially added into the show yet. And so the writers may change this backstory.
    • Mr. and Mrs. Cake seem to serve as this for Pinkie Pie.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Frankie is this to Mac, whose mom is hardly ever home.
  • In Tale Spin Baloo mirrors this relationship with Kit. He also has moments of this with single mother Rebecca's daughter Molly.
  • In Alfred J Kwak, Henk (a mole) functions as this to Alfred (a duck) after Alfred's parents and siblings were killed in a car accident. Discussed by Dolf, who thinks Alfred is weird or even inferior for having been raised by someone not his own species.
  • In Transformers Prime, although Cybertronian culture lacks conventional "parents" in general, Ratchet tends to act in this way to Bumblebee. In Season 2, it's revealed that Ratchet had saved Bumblebee's life after he was critically wounded by Megatron and still blames himself for being unable to fix his vocalizer.
  • In Young Justice, Bruce Wayne is very much this to Dick Grayson. Dick actually gets jealous in one episode when Bruce privately lectures Aqualad after a disastrous mission. Bruce then alleviates Dick's concerns by playing basketball with him (claiming that it's "training"). Suprisingly enough, this series averts the parental relationship between Bruce and Alfred. Word of God states that Alfred deliberately remained emotionally distant from Bruce in his youth because he felt it was inappropriate for a butler to act as a father to his "master". Alfred regrets that and has since become closer to both Dick and Bruce.
  • In Star Wars the Clone Wars Plo Koon seems to be filling in this role for Ahsoka.
  1. i.e. Punch and Judy, the Heterodyne Boys' most famous constructs
  2. spoilers!