When You Coming Home, Dad?

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"If you miss little Timmy's softball game even once he'll end up a serial killer all because of your terrible parenting."
Nathan Rabin's review of North, The AV Club

Parenting is challenging and complicated, and most parents are doing the best they can in the world's hardest job. Hollywood knows that you're doing it wrong, though, if you spend even one second at work that you could be fishin' or teaching your kid to catch a baseball.

Basically, this is a story about parents who do honestly love their kids, but are workaholics who yammer away in a cell phone constantly and don't show up to their kid's science fair or soccer game or spelling bee. The child will feel the pain and misery of your (often ridiculously benign) neglect as he looks in the audience and sees you aren't there. It usually develops into An Aesop about not busting your hump for the boss man and instead spending time with your family, frequently by Cutting the Electronic Leash.

While not quite Always Male, has a strong tendency to be about Dad rather than Mom. Not really Parental Abandonment, because the parents are there, and not Hands-Off Parenting either, because they usually aren't hippies. This trope is the most usual portrait of Parents as People, and usually part of the backstory of a Lonely Rich Kid.

Examples of When You Coming Home, Dad? include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the late 1980s, Telecom New Zealand ran an advert depicting a young boy speaking on the phone to his truck driver dad, with Elvis' Are You Lonesome Tonight playing in the background.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • In Ponyo the father of main character Sosuke is this, much to his mother's annoyance. It's somewhat heart wrenching in that Hayao Miyazaki made the film at least partially as an apology to his son and wife for working so much. When the father signals I'm sorry from the ship, it's Miyazaki, talking to his family.
  • 20th Century Boys: This has happened with a police detective and his daughter, to the point that she tells him if he's only one hour late to his grandson's birthday party, it'll be okay. It's a Doomed Appointment, of course. It also happened to Otcho, with similarly devastating consequences.
  • Little House With an Orange Roof: This is one of the catalysts for the premise; to keep the soulless corporation from firing him, the series' "dad" spends every waking moment working. It costs him his first marriage.
  • Sailor Moon: Ami's Hot Mom is a workaholic doctor, but also a pretty good person who had to raise her daughter almost on her own after her divorce. She even laments in the manga that she would really love to spend more time with her kid, but she cannot. This is to the point where she doesn't show up at all in the anime. Likewise her Disappeared Dad is a travelling artist (seemingly a wildlife painter) who communicates to her via letters and paintings but almost never actually shows up.
    • Rei also suffers from this - she lives with her grandfather in a shinto shrine and only sees her father (a famous politician) on her birthday each year.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura: Sonomi Daidouji, Tomoyo's mother. Like Dr. Mizuno, Sonomi's always very busy with her business and barely has time to see Tomoyo, but is genuinely affectionate to her and her friends when she is around. Specially seen in the episode where Tomoyo temporarily becomes a Cute Mute due to a Clow Card stealing her voice.
    • Sakura's father Fujitaka is a milder example, as he's an archeologist and uni professor with a very heavy schedule..
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Gendo appears to be an example of this during the Journey to the Center of the Mind/Dream Sequence/who knows what in End of Evangelion, and at least one Alternate Continuity runs with the idea that this is how he'd be if his Start of Darkness hadn't taken place. It's somewhat telling that even when experiencing Instrumentality, which supposedly lets you live out your greatest wishes without limit, this is the most positive portrayal of his father that Shinji's imagination can devise.
  • Runge from Monster is this to the extent that his wife and daughter actually leave him.
  • Tsugawa's family in Japan Inc.
  • Kotetsu/Wild Tiger's relationship with his daughter and how it's become strained because of his work as a Superhero (especially the fact that he's afraid to tell her about his job because he doesn't want her to worry about him) becomes a primary focus in the second half of Tiger and Bunny. After the series' climax, he uses the gradual decline of his powers as an opportunity to retire and spend more time with his daughter... Only to have said daughter talk him into coming out of retirement in less than a year.
  • This is the tragic backstory of Precia Testarossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha the Movie First. The sad part is, she did know that this was a problem and tried her best to make time for her daughter, but unlike the other Good Parents in the series who managed to balance their work and family life, she got smacked with the double whammy of a demanding job and unreasonable higher-ups. Unsurprisingly, when her daughter died before she could make up for lost time because said higher-ups ignored her expert warnings about her project, her mind broke.
  • In Sonic X both of Chris Thorndyke's parents have this problem, leaving him to depend on the company of an eccentric grandfather, and later a blue hedgehog and his friends.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • In the Spider-Man comic that first revealed that Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin, we see Norman being this to his son Harry in a flashback. We even see him bringing Harry an expensive present and trying to tell himself that this surely makes up for never having time for him. No Norman, it doesn't.
  • Thomas Wayne is sometimes portrayed as having been this kind of father to Bruce - in some versions, the fateful trip to the movies was intended to make up for this...


Fanfiction[edit | hide]

  • In 'Nexus' this is subverted as Jack rarely thinks about his father unless he has too.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Click: Adam Sandler needs to learn that spending time with his kids and having sex with Kate Beckinsale is better than working.
  • Evan Almighty: Also about spending more time with his wife.
  • Hook. Peter Pan has grown up into a workaholic businessman, who misses a lot of time with his kids, Jack and Maggie. Hook uses this to get Jack to pull a Face Heel Turn.
  • This is a minor plot point in Jack Frost (the family film, not the horror film).
  • The theme occurs periodically in Jersey Girl.
  • Jingle All the Way
  • An underlying theme early in The 6th Day is that if you work late with the excuse of getting your daughter an expensive doll to make up for it, a clone will go home on time and steal your life.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer's character in I Am Sam.
  • Liar Liar: Learning to spend more time with his kid isn't Jim Carrey's main lesson, but it is one of the things he does learn.
  • North: Young North feels so neglected that he actually divorces himself from his parents. This sets a rather dangerous precedent as children across the nation are now forcing their parents to wait on them hand and foot, lest they call Cat's Cradle and get their own divorce.
  • Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins: A particularly Egregious example, as the child complains that his dad needs to attend more of his soccer games while his dad is actually at his soccer game.
  • Indiana Jones
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A major source of friction between the Joneses Sr. and Jr. is that Sr. wasn't around much when Indy was a kid. The young Indy was frequently neglected as a child because his father was always off hunting relics. This also let a bad guy get away with a valuable relic that he was going to sell on the black market because he was too busy translating something to look at him. Bright side is that he reclaimed it years later.

Things had settled down in the Young Indiana Jones series when Indy was in High School, but now the physical distance had been replaced with emotional distance after the death of Mrs. Jones.

  • Played with in Coraline. Upset with neglect from her workaholic parents, Coraline is ensnared into the seductive world of the Other Mother where Coraline gets everything she wants and her parents exist only to please her. It's later revealed to be a honey trap, as the Other Mother is actually a creature that feeds on childrens' souls.

It is implied that her parents at the start of the movie are close to an important deadline and are not workaholics. They also just moved into a new house, which partly explains Coraline's resentment—she was also upset that her parents had her leave behind her old friends and home.

  • Both parents from Mary Poppins are period-piece examples of this trope, although in the mother's case it's her political crusades, not a job, that take up too much of her time. Moreover, in both cases, it seems as if it's not that their jobs are particularly time-consuming so much as they're mildly disinterested in the children and willing to pawn their parental responsibilities off on someone else. Then again, this was completely normal for a well-off family in the Edwardian Era.
  • Happens in Inception, where Cobb's young son asks his father when he would be coming home. Cobb audibly sighs and later the audience finds out that he can't return to America because his wife set up her suicide to look like he murdered her. (She believed that she was in a dream world, and wanted Cobb to "die" with her to "wake up."
  • In Parenthood, Gil struggles to balance his home life and career to be able to spend time with his kids and still keep a roof over their heads.
  • In The Jetsons movie, George is given a promotion and becomes a workaholic to try and maintain said rise in power. He has to be snapped out of it by his family and the fact that Spacely Sprockets is destroying a alien race's home. This all leads to his crowning moment where he finally tells Spacely off.
  • This is something Tom Hanks character does in Road to Perdition. It turns out that his reasoning for keeping distant is because he doesn't want his sons (especially Michael) to follow the same road as him and become a hitman for the mob.
  • Johnny in Little Giants wants nothing more than to spend time with his father, who is always away on business. When the father makes it to the football game, Johnny plows through the opposing team and scores a touchdown as a mere side benefit of getting to his dad.
  • This is one of the primary themes in Ink.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Cat's Cradle, all the children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker suffer from the fact that he neglects them in favor of his work and does not seem to understand much about emotions in general, although he genuinely cares from them. He's also the father of the atom bomb.
  • In The Compound, the fabulously wealthy father had grown up in an orphanage and, during his kid's childhood realized he didn't spend enough time with them. So he faked a nuclear attack and made them live with him in an underground bunker for 6 years. He was planning to keep them there another twelve, even if that meant they'd have to eat the younger siblings who were born underground.
  • One of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books contains a poem entitled "But You Didn't," in which the narrator repeatedly asks one of his parents to play with him, ending each request with the words "but you didn't." In the end, "My country called me to war; you asked me to come home safely... but I didn't!"
  • Old Kingdom series: Just before he sacrifices himself, Sabriel's father apologizes to her for not having been an "ideal parent", saying that the duties of the Abhorsen tend come before those of a father; Sabriel makes a similar speech to her son Sam later; Lirael's mother had to leave her because of something she Saw. Partially subverted, however: the kids may not like it, but they do understand, and so does the reader.
  • Barty Crouch, Sr. in Harry Potter, with deadly consequences. Not that this character didn't have other problems.

"Nasty little shock for old Barty, I'd imagine. Should have spent a bit more time at home with his family, shouldn't he? Ought to have left the office early once in a while... gotten to know his own son."

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • the Alpha Bitch in Camp Rock has a parent like this.
  • Maya on Just Shoot Me has a contentious relationship with her father Jack because as a child he was too busy running a fashion magazine (and being an out and out playboy) to be with her. The low point may have been when he hired someone to take his place to go trick or treat with her on Halloween. Ironically, when Jack tries to make amends, she ends up doing the same to him in order to go to a Halloween party with a handsome guy.
  • In the US version of The Office, when Jim comes back to work after his daughter's birth, Dwight attempts to induce a guilt trip in him by playing Chapin's Cat's In The Cradle to get him to take more time off (so Dwight can use his desk). It almost works.
  • The Wire: Detective Jimmy McNulty's bad parenting encompasses this trope, but is by no means limited to it. He is separated from his wife, and is frequently disputing the terms of the custody agreement, insisting he needs more time with both his kids. The first time we, the audience, see either of his kids is when he realizes almost too late that he has to attend his son's soccer game, and has to bring Bubbles, a police informant and drug addict, with him to the game.

The second time, he's playing soccer outside with his two kids, when suddenly he gets a page, at which point he bundles both kids into the car and takes them to the morgue (getting takeout for dinner instead of the restaurant date he'd promised them, and staying past their bedtime), in the company of a convicted felon, so said felon can identify the horribly mutilated corpse of his lover.

  • Roseanne - Roseanne tried to encourage Dan to spend more time bonding with DJ by threatening that she might have to play a Harry Chapin song for him.
    • Dan's issues with his own father are all about how much time he spent on the road with his job and trying to make up for it by giving expensive gifts whenever he came back.
    • Another episode had Roseanne realize just how much she and Dan ignore DJ (who, in a metafictional sense, had spent much of the series until that point being Out of Focus). They have to be told he's stopped seeing his friends and that he'd stopped playing hockey a year ago. When she finds out he's been driving their car around the neighborhood (implied to be to see if they'd notice), she decides to spend more time with him by making him work as a busboy in the diner.
  • On Will and Grace, Jack, who has daddy issues of his own, despondently recites the lyrics of the song into the mirror when his biological son's mother forbids him from seeing the boy again.
  • Power Rangers Turbo: Justin's dad is too busy trying to find and hold down a job to spend much time with him. Justin has a bit better luck than most on this page because this is resolved by the end, and in the meantime his fellow Rangers act as a surrogate family.
  • In the TV-movie "The Christmas Shoes" Rob Lowe plays a lawyer who spends too much time away from his family, but learns his lesson because of the aforementioned shoes (it makes more sense if you know the song on which the TV-movie is based).


Music[edit | hide]

  • The Trope Namer is a line from Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle". The father never seems to have time for his kid, making empty promises to spend time with him, and despite all that, his kid continues to look up to his dad, promising that he'll grow up just like him. When the dad is retired and finally has time for his son, he finds that his son is now the workaholic that has no time for him.

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

The song was based on a poem Harry's wife wrote about her first husband's relationship with his father. And written when his child was born, while he was out touring.
  • Obliquely mentioned in Franco de Vita's "No Basta".
  • Jamey Johnson's "The Dollar" delivers the same Aesop as the Trope Namer, but in a heartwarming tone instead of a depressing one.
  • "American Dream" by Christian Rock band Casting Crowns, which compares the proverbial man-who-built-his-house-upon-sand to a workaholic father who's never there for his wife and child.
  • "Slipping Through My Fingers" by ABBA tells the story of a mother that laments how work kept her away from her daughter as she grew up. Made even more of a Tear Jerker when you learn that it's based on both Björn and Agnetha's lives and how they missed their daughter's early years.
  • "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens is an inversion, being more of a "Why You Leaving Home, Son?" The father has never really taken the time to get to know his son, and cannot understand the son's frustration at conveying how important leaving to become his own man is. Incidentally, "Cat's in the Cradle" is often a Misattributed Song to Cat Stevens.
  • "Busy Man," Billy Ray Cyrus's only hit song between his Achy Breaky heyday and his Hannah Montana-induced comeback, explores this theme.
  • "Someday Never Comes" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which not only invokes this trope with both the father's life and death, but states that the son ends up just like his father with the implication that his son will be the same way when he gets older.

First thing I remember was askin' Papa "Why?" / For there were many things I didn't know.
And Daddy always smiled; took me by the hand / Sayin' "Someday you'll understand."
Well, I'm here to tell you now, each and every mother's son
You'd better learn it fast, you'd better learn it young
'Cause, "Someday" never comes.

  • Neil Diamond's "Shilo" uses this trope. A boy creates an imaginary friend, Shilo, because his father won't pay attention to him and he's lonely:

Papa says he'd love to be with you
If he had the time
So you turn to the only friend you can find
There in your mind

  • The song "Wasted" by Cartel has a variety of fairly depressing moments in it throughout the course of a person's life, including this one.

He's seven years old, got his bat in his hand
He's looking for his father and he doesn't understand
'Cause Dad's too busy, got some deals on the way
His son sits alone as the children play

  • The song "Don't Miss Your Life" by Phil Vassar was written when the singer was on a plane missing his daughters. It's about a young man on a plane for a business trip, sitting next to an older man who tells him he's missed a lot such as his daughter's first steps, and who advises him "don't miss your life". By the end of the song, the young man decides that as soon as the plane lands, he'll buy a ticket back home so that he can be there for his daughter's eighth birthday.

I missed the first steps my daughter took
The time my son played Captain Hook
In Peter Pan, I was in New York
Said "Sorry, son, Dad has to work"
I missed the father-daugher dance
The first home run, no second chance
To be there when he crossed the plate
The moment's gone, now it's too late
Fame and fortune come with a heavy price
Son, don't miss your life.

  • Fort Minor's song "Where'd You Go" is all about this trope from the point of view from the neglected family.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • In Trouble in Tahiti, Sam denies his wife's plea for him to attend his son's school play, because he wants to play in a handball tournament and prove he's a Born Winner.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Poor Ashley Robbins suffered this in Another Code R when her father wound up leaving her - again - after he returned to civilized life. He was aware of it enough to invite her to visit, though, which kicked off the plot of the game.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Thane Krios' relationship with his son Kolyat is this trope. It turns into a Whole-Plot Reference to the song when Kolyat decides to follow in his father's footsteps and become an assassin. The achievement for completing this subplot is even titled Cat's in the Cradle.
    • Mass Effect in general likes this trope. Tali's father was an admiral and never really close to his daughter, and Ashley's father was always out in space serving the military, while she, her sisters, and her mother stayed planetside, although the time she did spend with him sounds happy. Tali wasn't so lucky.
  • In Persona 4, Dojima-san is always too busy solvin' crime to do anything with Nanako. She asks him the title question over the phone more than once.
  • In Nanashi no Game, Ikuta was always too busy with work to spend time with his wife and daughter, which ended tragically for all involved.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, we get a dose of this with Carth's son. Part of the reason he joined the Sith was because he resented his father for always being off at war.
  • The title character of Nie R Gestalt spends all his time desperately searching for a cure for his sick daughter Yonah, no matter the cost, but all Yonah wants is for him to be at home with her.
  • Both MOTHER and EarthBound have your father in such a situation, contactable only by phone; exaggerated in EarthBound, where in the cast roll in the credits your father is a phone. Mother 3 sort of does it, the same way death is sort of sleeping.
  • Final Fantasy Legend II opens with a scene where your father is last seen leaving through your bedroom window. Throughout the game, the two of you bond through brief encounters as you try to convince him to stop working so damn hard.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, Hisao's parents spent most of his childhood working. He notes that this resulted in him having evenings to himself, enabling him to go out into the city.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Theo Nero in Char Cole is far too distracted being a scientist to be a father to the main character. The most Egregious example was when he wished his son a happy 16th birthday. The problem? His son had just turned 18.
  • Tiger from Spinnerette had a case of this in his flash-back; he often had precious little time with his wife and kids because he was working so many hours as a police officer. In truth it was because he was moonlighting as a superhero. When his family catches him, his kids aren't upset any more, in fact they're completely ecstatic! His wife... Not so much.
  • In Magellan, one of the main contributing factors to Charisma's Alpha Bitch personality is the fact that her father, the famed superhero Epoch, is frequently too busy with that to be around.

Web Original[edit | hide]

"Poverty isn't a number on your bank statement, it's a state of living that your kids are subjected to every day... All of the middle class people who want to lecture me about the meaningless nature of material goods, is assuming a shitload of things that still cost money -- free time, safe neighborhood, peaceful evenings, an absence of chronic pain or anxiety."

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Shows up in Unstable Fables: Tortoise Vs. Hare: Murray Hare misses his son's science fair to work at his car dealership. His wife is even worse, as she's a real estate agent who never takes off her Bluetooth headset and appears to be giving motherly advice when she's actually talking to a client.
  • The Fairly OddParents: Timmy Turner's parents were these at first. It doesn't get better. They have since been Flanderized into being ever more neglectful and selfish.
    • There was a flashback which revealed how Timmy came to have Vicky as a babysitter. In the flashback, it was revealed his parents obsessed over him—or, at least, his father did—and made home movies of everything - even Timmy eating spinach. His mother, wanting a life of her own, practically dragged Timmy's dad out, hired a sitter, and they became the neglectful parents they are today.
  • Jimmy Neutron once traveled back in time and persuaded his father to invest in the show's McDonald's Expy. When he got back to his own time, his parents were millionaires, but they couldn't even bother to give him the time of day, so he went back to the past to change things back to normal.
  • Rocket Power had Sam's dad be like this when he comes to visit. By the end of the episode he tosses his phone in the back of their car and ignores it as it rings.
  • Wakfu: Nox, the main villain, 200 years before the actual show took place. His obsession with his work eventually drove his wife and children away from him. They died when the home they moved to was destroyed in a massive flood, and only then did Nox realize that his obsession had cost him the best part of his life. The revelation drove him insane, leading him on a 200 year quest to travel back in time to fix his mistakes, over the course of which he annihilated several countries, killed a dragon, and wiped out an entire species.
  • One of the Hanna-Barbera TV-movies had a Lonely Rich Kid stow away with Yogi Bear and gang, who end up getting accused of kidnapping (but of course!). The trope is summed up aptly when the dad confronts them:

Dad: "Why would he leave with you? What could you possibly give him that I couldn't?"
Yogi: "Time."

  • On Invader Zim, Dib and Gaz suffer from an extreme version of this, as their father Professor Membrane is always either at his laboratory or working on some odd project in the basement. He often communicates with his children through floating video monitors rather than in person. To make things worse, most of his remaining interaction with Dib is spent on lamenting his "insanity" and/or pestering him to study "real science."