Family relationships can be complex and challenging. These ties are complicated even in a “normal” family, and the struggles often continue until children become parents themselves.
The parent-child relationship is the one we are born into, but it is often too difficult to navigate. The effects of this bond are almost impossible to shed in adulthood, or simply “grow out of”.
Dr. Mark Epstein, M.D. explains:
“Children, even angry, adult ones, never stop needing their parents’ love.”
The death of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder and CEO, from cancer in 2011, saddened the world, that remembers him as a highly intelligent business magnate and investor.
However, people do not know what kind of person, or a parent, he really was.
The memoir of his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, offers us an opportunity to learn more about the multimillionaire. Lisa was a child he had with his girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, born when both of them were 23.
“Small Fry” reveals the pain his rejection caused to his daughter and her mother. An excerpt was initially published in Vanity Fair in September 2018, which opens with a literary rendering of Jobs’ final days, presided over by a Buddhist monk who instructed Lisa to “touch his feet.”
When Lisa was born on an Oregon farm, Jobs arrived a few days later, and immediately denied paternity and refused to pay child support.
When Lisa was 2 years old, the district attorney of San Mateo County forced Jobs to take a DNA test and produce child support.
“My father responded by denying paternity, swearing in a deposition that he was sterile and naming another man he said was my father. I was required to take a DNA test. The tests were new then, and when the results came back, they gave the odds that we were related as the highest the instruments could measure at the time: 94.4 percent.”
Yet, Lisa also revealed that her dad’s lawyers insisted on finalizing child-support payouts and other payments on December 8, 1980, just four days before Apple went public and Jobs became immensely wealthy.
Her mother struggled to survive in her salary from waitressing and house cleaning and was forced to move from place to place with her daughter.
The most interaction the father and daughter had was a monthly visit to skate around the neighborhood together. The girl looked forward to these moments, but remembers that they were filled with mostly silence and a “strange blankness.”
Lisa writes about telling her friends that Steve Jobs was her father:
“I brought it up when I felt I needed to, waited as long as I could and then let it burst forth.
The story had a film of unreality to it as I said it, even to my own ears. I hadn’t hung out with him that much, only a few skates and visits. I didn’t have the clothes or the bike someone with a father like this would have.”
She was told that her dad replaced his black Porsche every time it got a scratch.
So, one night, she asked him if she could have one when he got rid of it, and his reply “hurt—sharp, in my chest”:
“You’re not getting anything. You understand? Nothing. You’re getting nothing.”
Yet, she adds:
“By that time I knew he was not generous with money, or food, or words.”
Lisa also writes about the Apple Lisa, a failed precursor for the Macintosh computer. Jobs named it after his daughter, but when she asked him about it, he replied shortly:
“Nope. Sorry kid.”
Later, when Lisa was 27, she went on a holiday in the Mediterranean with the entire Jobs family. They visited Jobs’ friend, the U2 frontman Bono.
When Bono met Lisa, he asked Jobs if the Apple Lisa had been named after her. Jobs took a long pause, and replied with, “Yeah, it was.”
This was extremely important for Lisa, and she explained that she felt“ a new power that pulled my chest up.”
By the time she was in middle school, her fights with her mother grew so intense that Lisa moved in with her father and his new wife. She entered a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. While she enjoyed the attention of her father, he never stopped being cold, critical and unpredictable.
“I was unsure of my position in the house, and this anxiety—combined with a feeling of immense gratitude so overwhelming I thought I might burst—caused me to talk too much, compliment too much, to say yes to whatever they asked, hoping my servile quality would ignite compassion, pity, or love.”
During his final years, Lisa visited Jobs every other month or so for a weekend.
“I had given up on the possibility of a grand reconciliation, the kind in the movies, but I kept coming anyway.”
While he was sleeping, she wandered the house and ended up in the bathroom, spraying herself with some of his expensive rose facial mist.
When she went to say goodbye to her dad, his parting words were, “You smell like a toilet.”
“For him, I was a blot on a spectacular ascent, as our story did not fit with the narrative of greatness and virtue he might have wanted for himself. My existence ruined his streak. For me, it was the opposite: The closer I was to him, the less I would feel ashamed; he was part of the world, and he would accelerate me into the light.”
While explaining the brutal relationship with her father, Lisa reveals that she has spent most of her life trying to win his love and acceptance, so she could finally feel like he is proud of her.
While she admires his charisma and brilliance, she is also angry, confused, and desperate to forgive. Yet, in the background of the memoir, there is a girl that craves to justify her father and her longing for his love.