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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Oct 9, 2011
10:24 PM

Steve Jobs' Big Fail as Father

For all his achievements as an inventor, Apple guru Steve Jobs was a lackluster dad who failed to get the importance of family balance. But does it matter?

Steve Jobs' Big Fail as Father

At the time of his death, Apple innovator Steve Jobs was collaborating with Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson on a tell-all biography. The book, which is on the publishing fast track as a result of the technology pioneer’s death, will be released on Oct. 24.

Presale reservations of the Steve Jobs biography have already made it the No. 1 bestselling book on Amazon.com. That’s hardly a surprise since Apple devotees are certainly keen to get deeper insight into someone many are calling this generation’s Thomas Edison. And yet, Jobs didn’t open himself up over the course of several months to sate the curiosity of Mac lovers and establish his place in history.

Instead, according to Isaacson, Jobs was hoping the book would give his own kids a better insight into their father since he was rarely home.

"I wanted my kids to know me," Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying in their final interview at Jobs' home in California. "I wasn't always there for them and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did."

It’s sad to think that any father – whether he’s an inventor or an insurance broker – would have to rely on someone or something to tell his kids who he was. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do every day as parents when we spend time with our children? Through those moments of driving them to school, playing board games or telling bedtime stories, we learn about our children and they learn about us. What an irony that a man who’s justifiably credited with making huge advances in the way we live from a technology perspective was such a dinosaur from a fatherhood perspective. Steve Jobs’ take on being a dad seems like that of a bygone era when fathers were expected to put work so ahead of their families that they were practical strangers to their children.

And yet even though he acknowledges he was never father of the year to the three children he had with wife Laurene Powell Jobs, at least he acknowledged they were his children. In what is probably his most character-indicting biographical factoid, at age 23, Jobs had a child with high school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan that he denied was his. His child, Lisa, and her mother were on welfare even after he’d become wealthy, and yet he continued to deny paternity of Lisa and refused to help support her. He even went so far as to sign a court document that it was impossible for Lisa to be his child because he was sterile. Clearly, that wasn’t true, since he had three children later in life. Jobs did come around to recognize Lisa as his child when she was 6. According to Lisa, she became more a part of her father’s life in her teenage years. Lisa Brennan-Jobs is now 33 years old, and is a Harvard graduate and writer.

Steve Jobs’ epic fail as family man also made him a clueless employer when it comes to family balance. He was often cited as a tough boss who thought little of requiring his employees to work hours hardly conducive to raising a family.

"You'd be surprised how hard people work around here," Jobs said in a 2004 interview with Businessweek. "They work nights and weekends, sometimes not seeing their families for a while. Sometimes people work through Christmas to make sure the tooling is just right at some factory in some corner of the world so our product comes out the best it can be."

No doubt Steve Jobs’s dedication as an innovator, creator and entrepreneur is admirable and exceptional. When it comes to technology and business, he taught us a lot. But as a father and as family man, he was the one who had a lot to learn. Apparently, there was no app for that.

What do you think? Does Steve Jobs’ failings as a father affect his legacy?

Old to new | New to old
Oct 10, 2011 10:23 am
 Posted by  happinessissuccess

There are many bad parents out there, better or worse than Steve Jobs. But I think, with all the big news about his passing, this article is besides the point. Steve Jobs never claimed to be a good father and nobody has put him on a pedestal of being a good dad. Being a good or bad father is just one part of his life. He did a lot of good, no, great things while he was alive, not least of all providing a good example of how you can be a successful innovator and businessman. Look at where he started and became successful in a short period of time, then went down fast, practically overnight, losing the company that he started. But he managed to make a comeback, a big comeback! This is a great lesson in life that a lot of dads can use to teach their kids. Yes he was not a good dad, we're not all made up to be good dads. But I am sure he made some of that up by providing for his kids. I don't know the details of how his initially disavowed daughter ultimately graduated from Harvard but I have not heard any story that indicated that she did it in spite of him.

This letter is not in defense of Steve Jobs as a father but just questioning the point of the article. More balance please..

Oct 10, 2011 02:08 pm
 Posted by  Julia E.

I agree with you, Happiness, and I think the blog also pointed out as well that Jobs was all the great things you said as a business man. All of that has been said and will be said for many years to come. He will truly be admired for generations. The point of the blog was to look at Jobs through a different lens, as father, as we as a culture often do with our public figures. I agree that it has no bearing on his legacy, but it's still a fair issue to bring up if only to allow us to learn that people aren't perfect, they are nuanced, and even Steve Jobs could have done better and perhaps his priorities should have been different. Maybe not. Maybe when someone has a great mind it would be a waste to society for him or her to sacrifice his attention to work to focus more on his or her family. That is an interesting question: Is it the quality of your work and its affect on society (as a doctor or inventor, perhaps) that makes it permissible to not be as available to your children? Regardless, this is a blog post, an opinion piece, and so its point is not to be balanced, but to provoke thought and offer a perspective. I'm glad it did that for you.

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