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This trope is an incredibly painful but nevertheless important Aesop that is appearing with increased frequency in Anime dramas that are centered around parent-child relationships.

The father or mother in question has stayed aloof from their kind and loving child, often Too Good for This Sinful Earth, a victim of a terminal illness or destined to give their lives for the good of humanity. This is usually due to their cowardly refusal to become emotionally attached to someone they don't believe they can hold onto.

Far too often, far too late, do they realize how much they love their child only as they are about to be lost forever.

In desperation to hold onto what could have been, the parent will plead for departing offspring to stay so that they may spend the quality time together that he was too proud and aloof to make, often accompanied by imagined images of happy memories that could have been. This will be made all the more painful by the child forgiving the parent for their mistakes as they Go Out with a Smile.

Examples of Fond Memories That Could Have Been include:

Anime and Manga

  • AIR plays this trait painfully straight, as Haruko weeps for her adoptive daughter Misuzu to stay alive, bitterly imagining the times she wished she could have spent with her as she dies in her arms.
  • Roy Revant, the aloof adoptive father of the title character of Solty Rei frantically pleaded for his little girl to not go through with the suicidal Heroic Sacrifice to save the planet, even going as far as telling her that he would take her to the amusement park like any father would his daughter. She simply smiles with tears in her eyes, and says that she's happy to have been his daughter, and bravely steps into the shuttle to her doom.
  • In Elfen Lied, Chief Kurama is unable to kill his monster of a daughter at the end, and instead carries her off as an explosive implanted in her body kills them both, his last thoughts being images of him, his deceased wife, and Mariko as a normal family.
  • Kaori with Shiori in Kanon. Kaori can't bear to be close to her terminally ill sister and pretends like her sister doesn't exist, so she can stay emotionally distant. This causes Shiori much anguish for years. Only when Shiori has very little time left does Kaori's composure crack and she tries to be the big sister she should have been all along. Fortunately, Ayu's miracle gives them much more time to spend as a family, thankfully averting this trope at the end of it all.
  • In Angel Beats it becomes clear that Yui's greatest regret is not having been able to marry because of her paralysis. Once Hinata says he would have married her despite her condition, we see romantic scenes of them meeting and falling in love during their previous lives. This all sounds very nice, but shortly after Yui disappears, finally having found peace in herself.
  • Occured twice in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Movie:
    • When her daughter Alicia died, workaholic Precia Testarossa deeeply regretted that they had never been able to spend quality time together. In despair, she used all her knowledge to create a perfect replacement, and thus Fate was born. Unfortunately, even with all her likeliness and memories, Fate turns up into a different individual, causing her mother to go crazy and sees her as a failure, keeping her only as a mere tool in her new plan to resurrect Alicia.
    • In the end, as she falls down to her death, Precia remembered that when she was still alive Alicia once wanted a sister and realized too late that instead of a replacement, she could have accepted Fate as another daughter instead.
  • In End of Evangelion when Instrumentality/The Third Impact is taking full effect killing everyone on the planet, Gendo's last words are "Forgive me, Shinji." as he realises how he has driven his child away and treated him horribly, invoking this trope. Of course being Eva, It Got Worse.
    • It's also implied that Gendo's always felt like that. However, End of Eva doesn't tend to outright state much of anything.
  • A compressed version of this shows up in one of the chapter covers of One Piece. It shows Luffy with his dead older brothers, Sabo and Ace respectively, having adventures in the present day.
  • Naruto features a variation on the cover of the chapter finishing the Naruto's birth arc, in which Minato and Kushina sacrifice themselves to save their son and Konoha. What's particularly gut-wrenching is that it shows a typical family breakfast for Naruto's family--showing the huge contrast between his What Could Have Been childhood and his very Dark and Troubled Past one.


  • Subverted in Dead Poets Society -- all Neil's father has to say is "My son, my son," and he blames Neil's teacher for the boy's being Driven to Suicide, completely failing to understand that it's his own fault.
    • Not wanting to accept the blame is more like it. His outward denial of responsibility and rage at the teacher are driven by his own guilt.
  • In Scarface, Tony Montana finds his best friend and his sister together, and in a rage, shoots and kills his friend, only to learn that he and his sister had just gotten married.
  • In the films Jean de Florette and its second part Manon of the Spring, a greedy, conniving farmer, César, engineers the downfall and death of his newly-arrived neighbor, Jean, in order to get hold of his property. Years later, César discovers, to his infinite horror, that the man he destroyed was the son that César had always wished he'd had. Heartbroken and devastated, César loses the will to live and dies soon after.


  • In The Lord of the Rings, Denethor only realizes he loves his son Faramir when Faramir is dying from wounds he received in a pointless battle that Denethor sent him into. Turns out Faramir is Only Mostly Dead, but by this time Denethor's so insane he can't see it (movie)/loses all hope anyway (book), and he attempts to kill himself and Faramir on a funeral pyre. In both versions, Faramir is rescued, but Denethor burns to death.
  • Classic example: East Lynne, which played the death of the tragic heroine's son for all it was worth.
  • Ralph Nickleby hangs himself after learning that Smike was his son because he wasted his life making money and believes that raising a child might have made him a better person.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy: In "Brian Wallows and Peter Swallows", Brian falls in love with an elderly woman that dies at the end. But, before she dies, Brian puts a VR helmet on her to imagine her life if she lived and married Brian.
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