I can spot middle-child syndrome when I see it. When there are 3 siblings, the middle-child is always the one who loses out between the elder sibling and the baby of the family. I know this because, like Dr. Lee, I grew up as the middle-child.
Barring the impossibly well-adjusted, middle-children often overcompensate by fighting to be noticed.
Dr. Lee is no exception.
From her Facebook posts alone, there seems to be an almost desperate bid for her Papa’s attention.
On her father’s one year death anniversary back in 2016, Dr. Lee published a Facebook post on how “Lee Kuan Yew would have cringed at the hero worship.” She went on to lambaste the public for “hagiograhy,” and suggested that we should all be slow to venerate her father. This post was then submitted to the Straits Times to be published.
A week later, when the Straits Times refused to publish this due to plagiarised content, she responded with another post stating that she was simply protecting her father’s legacy as a “filial daughter.”
When she refers to Lee Kuan Yew as “Papa” or “Pa”, using the endearment usually reserved for private interactions, her public statements sound more like intimate letters to a man who has already passed on. What she really means is for us to know that they shared a special relationship. She knows what Lee Kuan Yew wanted, therefore she must safeguard his legacy.
By suggesting that she was acting as a “filial daughter,” speaking as a daughter still seemingly eager to win her father’s approval, she drives this point home.
In her public statement made on 14th June 2017, she refers to Lee Kuan Yew as her “father” 8 times.
It would have been more appropriate to formally refer to him as Lee Kuan Yew, or our late Minister Mentor, considering that these were meant to be public statements. The fact that she chooses to refer to him as her father or Papa makes us think that this issue is less about what Lee Hsien Loong is doing, and really about honouring Papa’s wishes.
Now that Lee Kuan Yew isn’t around to witness this, letting the public know seems to have become the only way to receive affirmation for her actions.
On 10th April 2016, she stated in a now deleted Facebook post that Lee Hsien Loong had “no qualms” abusing his power to commemorate their father’s death, and that she, as “Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter will not allow Lee Kuan Yew’s name to be sullied by a dishonourable son.”
Bluntly put, she publicly shamed PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Two things are obvious here. Firstly, it clearly matters that she protects her father’s reputation and legacy. Secondly, it’s even more important that she is seen as the family member who is protecting it.
This is a pattern in most of her public posts that mention Lee Kuan Yew. Clearly, it isn’t enough for her to know that she was close to her father. The world also needs to know that Dr. Lee is living up to her father’s legacy, more so than her siblings have.
When she constantly brings her elder brother into the picture, usually to contrast her own “praiseworthy” behaviour, it makes me wonder what this is really about. It makes me wonder whether this is really about her wanting to appear more filial than her elder brother.
Is this sibling rivalry? Is this about Singapore’s values? Or is she, like other middle-children, simply unhappy with her place in the family?
In her recent statement, she says that she’s concerned with the abuse of power. But this, like most of her other statements, was framed in the context of what Papa would have wanted.
In accusing her elder brother of wanting “to appear filial in public whilst acting to thwart” her “parents’ wishes in private,” these sibling issues have resurfaced—except it’s now in public.
While I’ve had a great childhood, it was always all about kor and my younger brother.
Back when I was cramming for my O-levels, my elder brother was sitting for his A-levels. Concurrently, my younger brother was sitting for his Sec 2 streaming exams. It was always as though they were doing something more important than me. In the eyes of my parents, my struggles seemed insignificant.
Left to my own devices, I grew up more independent than my other two siblings. While my younger brother looked up to me and always backed me up in fights with my kor, this never mattered that much to me. I just wanted my father’s approval.
So when Dr. Lee threw Lee Hsien Loong under the bus in her most recent statement, I found myself empathising. While Singapore watches on as this private family feud continues to escalate, all I see is the middle child in Dr. Lee.
This is still about what Papa wanted, how Papa wanted his home on Oxley Road to be demolished, and how Dr. Lee, his filial daughter, must now be the one to carry out Papa’s wishes. Not her errant elder brother.
Underneath it all, the middle-child just wants Papa to know that she’s living the life he would have approved of.