Life with the mad dictator

Matt Lindenburg

My two-year-old son, a gifted manipulator, can read every angle and exploit any sign of weakness. He can confuse, misdirect and exaggerate with the best of them, usually in order to get an extra piece of candy. It’s difficult not to be at least a little proud of him because you know these skills are going to come in handy in later life. Especially when he starts dating. 

One of his favorite tricks is to try to undermine my authority by making wild claims about the unfair rules I impose.  

“Mommy,” he says in his sweet, sad, Dickensian orphan voice. “Mommy, daddy say that I can’t drink water. Yesterday.”

“Why did you tell him he can’t drink water?” my wife will ask. 

“I did? When?”

“He says ‘yesterday.’”

The “yesterday” part is key because it makes it sound official and unassailable at the same time. Because it happened sometime yesterday – which is too long ago for me to recall with any real clarity – it’s difficult for either my wife or me to question. He will also often provide information about the location of our dialogue. 

“Mommy,” he will say. “Daddy say no wear pants.”

“He did? When?”

“Um, yesterday. Upstairs.”

See? It sounds completely plausible. Upstairs is precisely the kind of place we would have such a conversation. 

I want you to understand that this isn’t the classic dad-said-I-could technique we’re all familiar with (mostly because we used it on our parents) and prepared for. This is something much more devious. What he’s trying to do is destroy credibility. He figures that if he can make my rules seem as absurd as possible, I’ll be removed from the chain of command. Which is probably true. 

He’s also claimed that I’ve told him not to:

  • Play with the ball right there
  • Close the bathroom door
  • Skip
  • Wash his hands
  • Flush the toilet

Once he accused me of discriminating against him because he was wearing a blue shirt. I swear to god. Well, he didn’t actually use any form of the word “discriminate” but that was the gist of it. 

My wife thinks this is mostly very funny but I’m starting to feel like the mad dictator of a tiny island nation. You know the kind that proclaims national holidays for dead pets and makes the color puce illegal (not entirely a bad idea). Pretty soon I’ll be ignored completely and my only official remaining task will be to bark at the neighbors cats when they sniff around our back yard. I do this already, but it’s mostly a hobby. 

And, you know, maybe that’s the best thing for me to do. Free myself from all parental authority. Let my wife be the sole disciplinarian. I’ll sit by a window at the back of the house and wear a shawl and bark. It’s not such a bad life. 

Somehow, I think my son would see through this and modify his strategy.  

“Daddy,” my son says, in his sweet-sad way, “mommy say no sitting on the floor.”

“She did? When?”

“Um, Tuesday.”

That’s just like her. 


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