The “Missing Father” Trope: Other Ways To Handle Deadbeat Dads and Various Family Members

So if you’ve been on this blog for a while, you know that I’m really getting tired of missing fathers. I mean, really tired. Here are all the books on my current bookshelf and book blog that feature a main character dealing with their missing father, or wanting to learn more about them, or at least having some familiar conflict with them:

The Hypnotist’s Love Story
The Breakdown
The Kiss Quotient
Never Let You Go
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (mostly with mom but dad too)
My Not-So-Perfect Life (somewhat; the good father relationship was a major plus but the “regret” she feels towards their relationship was meh)
A Dog’s Journey
The Storyteller
Pupcakes (with a mom rather than a dad)
Harry Potter series
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Silver Linings Playbook (strained father relations)
The Bassoon King
The Other Woman
A Simple Favor
You (only watched the series, but this is presumably in the book too and was so completely and utterly pointless that the episode probably could have been skipped altogether)
Roomies (YA)
Before She Knew Him
The Woman in the Window

One Perfect Lie
Best Day Ever

Keep in mind I don’t have THAT big of a bookshelf. It seems like including a missing father plot is publishing law now. I can barely recall the last time a book didn’t ever mention a father, or at least some sort of issue.

All these books were ones I read pretty recently. The missing father aspect in most of them was in no way necessary, and in some cases it distracted from the overall story. (I’m especially looking at The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which significantly lessened the quality of an otherwise great book.) In a few, it worked (Harry Potter, for example, and that was before the trope took off anyway; and The Breakdown; and Never Let You Go; and The Bassoon King was a memoir so it made sense). Other times, it just seems forced. Like my oft-complained about YA romances, missing fathers tend to distract from the plot when the author realizes that maybe we’d rather hear more about that. 

So why is this such a thing? I guess because it’s an easy way to add conflict, and it can be easy to relate to. Still, it’s getting very overdone and boring. What other angles might an author take?

The protagonist can have a good relationship with their father.

I know that family issues aren’t uncommon, but neither are good family relationships. Yet for some reason I see this pretty rarely. This was the case in My Not So-Perfect Life, but it was still mixed with some angst. I wonder why this isn’t done more often. 

Show the divorce process.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a YA character grapple with living with one or the other? It’s something new to bring to the table.

Introduce a different father figure.

This could be a teacher, an uncle, or even a friend’s father. The Book Thief did this really well with Liesl’s guardian….and they did a male friendship really well too. Both good ideas! 

Show strained relations with a different relative.

A cousin rivalry, a grumpy grandmother, or a twin would give the novel some sort of a different twist. 

Don’t mention the family.

Maybe the main character is on her own. Authors shouldn’t feel obligated to include family characters just for the sake of including them. This is when the trope becomes a problem. Writers feel the need to include family members and then have no clue what to do with them, so they resort to the easy missing father.

Make the book a comedy.

Picture this: a comedy about Lila White’s crazy grandmother. The grandmother robs banks to get money for her granddaughter, calls herself Atomic Grandma, and replies with “I’m not YOUR grandma; I’m HER grandma!” whenever anyone but Lila calls her Grandma White. So when she goes missing, Lila knows that she has to track her down before Grandma does any real damage! 

These were characters I created in my childhood. Making a story lighthearted–maybe not quite to the extent I described–would provide a different look at the “missing relative” without all the angst. 

It’s not a bad thing to have fathers in books. Let’s just show a little more variety, or maybe forego them altogether once in a while, because I am tired of hearing it.

How do you feel about fathers in books?

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