Published on 01 Aug 2022

How I plan to take over as Dictator Dad

After years of playing nice, it is time to be taken seriously with an overhaul in parenting style, says Abel Ang

I used to shout at my kids a lot when they were younger. Over the last decade, I have mellowed in my interactions with them, but lately, I've started to feel more like a minion in my home than a master of my hearth.


Deciding that it was time for a change, I sought inspiration for a radical parenting makeover. I picked up Frank Dikotter's best-selling book How To Be A Dictator for tips on how to improve my parenting style.

With its help, I see myself upgrading my parenting operating system to version 2.0 and recasting myself as Dictator Dad.

Dikotter, a Dutch historian who is a professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong, is an expert in modern Chinese history and has spent his career studying dictators. His book provides a comprehensive overview of eight of the most important dictators in our modern age, from Adolf Hitler to Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong to Benito Mussolini.

According to the book, every dictator needs a doctrine. As an example, China's dictator Mao gave his country Mao Zedong Thought, which lives on even today. North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung gave North Korea his Juche ideology, where "man is the master of everything and decides everything".

Doctrine to a dictator is like spaghetti sauce to pasta, it is an absolute must, but sometimes it gets a little messy.

Since doctrines served their dictators so well, I have decided that I need a doctrine too. My doctrine, which has as its working title Dictator Dad's Doctrine, or 3D for short, is not very long and lacking in any literary value.

The doctrine goes:

1. Dad is great 

2. Dad should be served

3. Don't talk back to dad

I understand that the doctrine needs work, but please remember that Mao's Little Red Book also had humble beginnings. Each dictator took years to refine his doctrine. As a dictator on training wheels, my doctrine will need to go through some refinement and shaping along the way.

As the Dictator Dad doctrine shapes up, I intend to organise classes for the family to study and discuss the 3Ds, while giving them ample time to reflect on how these will apply to their lives and what they can do to make my life better.

I am not sure yet how to overcome the fact that the family will be falling over themselves in laughter when they hear about the doctrine, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Laughter is something I will have to learn to endure if I want to prevail in my goal of becoming Dictator Dad.

Apparently, Italian dictator Mussolini saw himself as Italy's finest actor and German dictator Hitler called himself Europe's greatest performer. The duo must have learnt how to handle rejection and incredulous laughter at some point during their careers, or they would not have achieved the success they had.

According to my trusty guidebook, dictators need to combine the skills of an "actor, stage manager, orator and brilliant self publicist". While Mussolini was small in stature, he made up for it with a straight back and stiff torso to give the impression of height and stature. Mussolini would practise for hours before speaking to the Italian populace to make sure his hand gestures were executed perfectly.

I intend to introduce some of this learning into my family interactions. Henceforth, my family communications will be done with a lowered voice to convey more gravitas. I will also use imperious hand gestures when I speak, so my family will be more inclined to follow my orders to bring me my newspapers, or to serve me a cool drink on a warm day.

My concern about appearing stiff-backed in front of my family is that someone might suspect I have strained my back, which I sometimes do if I lift heavy things, and that the injury has affected my vocal cords too. In such an instance, they might be more inclined to follow my orders out of pity for me, instead of respecting my authority as Dictator Dad.

According to Dikotter, propaganda is usually necessary to get the populace into the right frame of mind to be compliant and cooperative. School children were indoctrinated into the cult of Hitler from their first days of school, and children learnt the story of Mussolini's life by heart in their nurseries.

Mao is described as "an accomplished scholar of classical Chinese, an omnivorous reader, a deep student of philosophy and history, a good speaker, a man with an unusual memory and extraordinary powers of concentration, an able writer".

I will need to embellish my personal history to craft a more compelling story for the family to learn. Given the significant abilities and virtues that my new propaganda biography will contain, I will no longer have time for household chores as I am too busy developing the next 100 medicines to solve all future pandemics that could plague mankind.

To go along with my propaganda biography, I think it would be appropriate for a hymn about Dictator Dad to be sung each day, in the same way that school children used to sing a hymn about Chairman Mao daily.

My Dictator Dad song will be set to the tune of Count On Me Singapore. In the same way that an Indian composer repurposed the song for India, I do not see why Dictator Dad cannot do the same for the equally worthy cause of total family domination.

One must not forget that merchandising is part and parcel of any dictatorship. Dikotter writes that "everywhere in Moscow, one sees nothing but Lenin". Available merchandise with the Russian dictator's likeness include "Lenin posters, Lenin drawings, Lenin mosaics, Lenin scorched in pokerwork, Lenin in linoleum".

Disney is not the only organisation that has figured out that to totally dominate, you need to be totally visible. My plan is to tie up with a local souvenir shop to produce Dictator Dad merchandise. Anything that Lenin has his photo on should work for me, too. After all, what pairs better with the morning hymn to Dictator Dad than a coffee mug with Dictator Dad's likeness, and maybe Dictator Dad's blend of coffee?

To conclude, Dikotter writes in his book that dictators need to cultivate a fatherly and loving image towards their people. He writes about how Soviet dictator Stalin "showed concern for the people around him, regardless of their position in the hierarchy, remembering their names and past conversations". He added that Mao "smiled often and benevolently" at his people.

I found this piece of advice to be the best part of his book. I intend to continue to show great care and concern for my family and treat them with plenty of warmth and respect. Little do they know that it is part of my evil masterplan, which I will set in motion at the appropriate time, when I am ready to take over as Dictator Dad.


Source: The Straits Times