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The Real Reason Ross' Son Disappeared On Friends

Fans of the popular sitcom Friends will well remember that in the second episode of the very first season, Ross (David Schwimmer) had a visit from his rather recent ex-wife Carol (Anita Barone, and later Jane Sibbett), telling him that she was pregnant with his child.

Several tense incidents between Ross and Carol's lover Susan (Jessica Hecht) later, out popped a baby boy who they (finally) agreed to name Ben. As Ben got older, he was played by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse — but in season 8 when his baby half-sister Emma was born, Ben, who wasn't exactly a staple on the series to begin with, disappeared from the show completely.

The series' fans all seem to agree that it's weird for Ben to have been all but forgotten on the show. He's barely even referred to again after Emma is born, with the only real mention coming in the hours after Emma's birth when Ross' father Jack Geller (Elliott Gould) gushed over his "first grandchild," prompting Ross to point out that Jack actually has a 7 year old grandson already. Aside from that single mention, Ben wasn't referred to again except as an afterthought in the final two seasons, and his last appearance was in the season 8 episode "The One Where Joey Dates Rachel."

Cole Sprouse offers a flippant suggestion as to Ben's disappearance

So just why did Ben fall off the map after season 8 of Friends? Why did Ross, who spent a good few episodes arguing with his ex-wife over trying to move to England for his new wife Emily (Helen Baxendale), suddenly seemed to forget he had a son? For that matter, did Ben and Emma ever even meet one another? Some of the Friends cast has some idea as to what may have happened. 

Cole Sprouse, for one, has spoken up on why he thinks Ben disappeared from the show — and it's not exactly a complimentary thought pertaining to his onscreen father, whom it has been noted only seemed to have Ben around when the plot of a particular episode called for it. "Critics would agree that Ross was never really the most present father," he said in a video segment of "Actually Me" for GQ. "And so it doesn't surprise me too much."

Sure, it wasn't like Ben saw his dad in every episode before Emma was born, but it seems a little weird that fans didn't even get to see Ross introducing his son to his baby sister in the hospital, as is customary in most families. This has led to plenty of fans wondering if the two actually met offscreen, but there was no allusion to that, either. Did Ross just magically forget about his son once his new baby was born? Or, was he a much better dad than fans (and Sprouse) give him credit for?

Ben's moms have a different solution to his absence

Sibbett and Hecht offered another explanation for Ben's absence in an interview with Comedy Central while they were on tour in the UK.

"He moved to England. So we've come after him and that's why we're gonna stay," Sibbett explained, with Hecht adding: "We put him in a boarding school just to get him out of dodge. We put him in a British boarding school.We eventually come here (the UK), adopt children and home school them in London."

One popular fan theory is that Ross lost custody of his son when Carol decided that he was an unfit father (via ScreenRant). While it doesn't seem to the audience that Ross is really all that interested in spending time with his son past the first few seasons, if that were the case, it would be pretty weird for the showrunners and producers not to address it during the series.

Perhaps a few more practical reasons for Ben's absence

In all likelihood, there was no custody battle or emigration happening offscreen. The more probable answer to the question of what the heck happened to Ben has to do with the fact that the kid increasingly didn't fit into any of the multiple plot lines that Friends' writers were always juggling. As Ben didn't exactly fall into the category of "series regular" before his disappearance, he was probably one of the easier characters to write off, in the hopes that his absence would completely slip by the audience's notice.

There's also the very real possibility that Sprouse might have had conflicts with his schedule, which started to get much busier around 2002, when he appeared in his final Friends episode. In that same year, he also appeared in The Master of Disguise and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and voiced a toy soldier in Eight Crazy Nights. In 2003, he has credits for Apple Jacks and Just For Kicks, and for The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things in 2004. With child labor laws meaning he would have had very limited hours in which he would have been allowed to work, it's not implausible that other projects left him with no time to be on the set of Friends — meaning that while Ross' besties would be there for him, his son wouldn't.