What we learn about Steve Jobs’ cruelty, kindness from his daughter’s new memoir
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That the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs could be mean and petty has been well-documented in films and books.
But read “Small Fry,” the new memoir by his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Grove Press, $26), and you discover that Jobs was even worse than we thought — though he had some decent moments, too.
Lisa’s mother, the artist Chrisann Brennan, was Jobs’ girlfriend in the 1970s. Jobs initially said Lisa, born in 1978, wasn’t his child. But after lawsuits and paternity DNA tests, a court ruled Jobs indeed was responsible and needed to pay $385 a month in child support — which his daughter says he increased to $500 — and medical insurance until she turned 18.
This arrangement was signed, she writes, and “four days later Apple went public and overnight my father was worth more than two hundred million dollars.”
Here are five things we learn from the new book:
1. Steve Jobs could be icy and cruel.
Beyond not taking responsibility for his daughter, Jobs was cold to her for years, called her fat, refused to pay her college tuition initially and played mind-control games with her when she would want to be out with friends as a teenager. (She lived mostly with her mother, in a series of homes, before living, on and off, in her dad’s house in her teens.) He made her quit her post as high school student body president because it meant she wouldn’t be home at night, and thus not a functioning member of his family.
He once invited her to attend a wedding with him and wife Laurene Powell Jobs, but it turned out that was just to babysit their young son Reed. They wouldn’t let her sit with them at the wedding.
And, for years, Jobs refused to say he named the Lisa computer after his daughter, crushing her, until finally admitting it while visiting U2 star Bono with his daughter years later.
2. He could be thoughtful.
He took his daughter skating, on walks, drove her places, invited her to vacation in Hawaii with his second family and offered wisdom to his daughter. They played piano together (“Heart and Soul”), and he sang show tunes to her (“Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music”) around the house.
3. He loved great movies.
Together, they watched classic movies on the old format LaserDisc, including “Cinema Paradiso,” Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and “Modern Times,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude.”
4. Lisa Brennan-Jobs suffered as the child of a previous relationship.
Brennan-Jobs writes of being left out of Steve Jobs’ official Apple.com biography when it mentioned his family. She notes the pain of being omitted from family photos hanging on the wall at the Palo Alto, California, mansion her father shared with Laurene Powell Jobs. She writes of feeling lonely when she lived in their home and requesting that Laurene and Steve come in and say good night before she went to sleep, like they did the other kids. Her father did it once, she writes.
5. On his deathbed, Steve Jobs apologized.
“I didn’t spend enough time with you when you were little,” he told her, crying, on their last visit, shortly before he died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer at 56. “I owe you one.”
He admitted on his deathbed he had stopped speaking to her and returning her e-mails a decade earlier because he was mad at not being invited to parents’ weekend when she attended Harvard.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.
“I’m not too good at communication,” replied the man who brought us the iPhone.
Widow Laurene Powell Jobs and Steve Jobs’ sister, novelist Mona Simpson, put out a joint statement criticizing “Small Fry,” saying it “differs dramatically from our memories of those times. The portrayal of Steve is not the husband and father we knew.”
But Brennan-Jobs’ portrayal is of a sad child who suffered watching her famous father decline to offer much support, financially or emotionally, who read about his successes and portrayal in news stories as a god of tech while being treated as an occasional visitor to a world that couldn’t be hers.
She has said she doesn’t want “Small Fry” to be read as a tell-all attack book, but there’s no way to read it and not feel complete sympathy and sadness even with her father’s apology at the end.