In this paper I report on an investigation of discoursal asymmetry in parentcraft texts, in terms of the ways in which the father is represented and backgrounded. In particular, I suggest that it is possible to see one dominant, overarching discourse: `Part-time father/mother as main parent'. This dominant discourse can be seen as being `shored up' (as well as, to an extent, challenged) by other, usually complementary, discourses: `father as baby entertainer', `father as mother's bumbling assistant', `father as line manager', `mother as manager of the father's role in childcare', and `mother as wife/partner'. These discourses are characterized by recurring and non-recurring linguistic presences - and, importantly, absences (Van Leeuwen, 1995, 1996). Looking in particular at the following linguistic items from three different semantic fields - mother/father/wife/husband/partner; play/fun/help; and share - I illustrate how different discourses, with their salient linguistic presences and absences, can organize a text in supporting and potentially destabilizing ways.