Steve Jobs daughter's heartbreaking account of his parenting: Psychologists weigh in

Korin Miller
Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle

Steve Jobs’s daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs has written a memoir titled Small Fry, and Vanity Fair published an excerpt that offers a sad glimpse into her father’s failings as a parent.

Brennan-Jobs writes that her father wasn’t impressed with her from the start. She claims that her father denied paternity until the district attorney of San Mateo County, Calif., forced him to take a paternity test and start paying child support to her mother, Chrisann Brennan.

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She also says that Jobs’s lawyers insisted that child support payments be finalized on Dec. 8, 1980, four days before Apple’s initial public offering, which made Jobs incredibly wealthy.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs and Steve Jobs. (Photos: Facebook/Lisa Brennan-Jobs; Getty Images)
Lisa Brennan-Jobs and Steve Jobs. (Photos: Facebook/Lisa Brennan-Jobs; Getty Images)

Brennan-Jobs includes numerous anecdotes about her father that don’t paint a rosy picture, and says that he was never “generous with money, or food, or words.” She says she thought that her father replaced his Porsche every time it was scratched, and asked at one point if she could have his current car when he got rid of it. “You’re not getting anything,” he reportedly said. “You understand? Nothing. You’re getting nothing.”

“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,” Brennan-Jobs writes. “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.”

Brennan-Jobs also describes a confusing story of how her father once told her that he didn’t name the Apple computer Lisa, which came before the Macintosh, after her. However, as their relationship changed, she says he later told U2’s Bono that he did name it after her.

Brennan-Jobs says she visited her father regularly when he was gravely ill with pancreatic cancer, but she eventually gave up on the “possibility of a grand reconciliation.”

Brennan-Jobs’s account of her relationship with her father is heartbreaking, and unfortunately this kind of parenting personality can have a deep impact on a child, says clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life. He often sees children in his practice whose fathers deny paternity, and says it can cause a “devastating blow” to a child’s sense of identity.

A parent’s attempt to deny paternity is a brutal rejection, Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and author ofThe Power of Different, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Such extreme rejection from a parent is exceedingly painful,” she says. “A child and, later, that adult can have feelings that range from questioning their value, having low self-esteem, feeling worthless and this in turn can lead to depression and anxiety.”

“Most of us are wired to want to connect with our parents,” licensed family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When there is neglect from parents, or much worse, rejection, it can have a lasting impact on the child’s social and emotional functioning.”

Kids tend to feel guilty in this kind of situation and often feel that they must have done something wrong for their parent to act this way, Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and program coordinator at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. It’s only when they reach their teens or later that they realize that’s not the case.

As for Jobs’s reported lack of generosity, that too can leave a lasting impact, Mayer says. “Generosity by a parent is a sign of love and of safety,” Mayer says. “Therefore, the lack of generosity sends a loud message to the child that they are not loved and they are not safe in the world.”

All of this can create a “constant state of conflict” in a person, Mayer says. “They proceed in life with this handicap,” he says. “This is a very strenuous situation and, in my opinion, is mentally abusive.”

How much the other parent is present, stable, and loving also matters, Mendez says. “We would want to see that some of the negative factors such as guilt, feeling insecure, and unloved, is mitigated by a really strong foundation and secure attachment that is there,” she says. 

For people who have an absentee parent, Klow recommends trying to find support from other people in your life. “Find others who are reliably present in your life and value you,” he says. It’s also important to try to seek closure on the relationship, which often can be done with the help of therapy, Mayer says. “The end result of this process of closure is that the person rejects this parent in the same way that the parent rejected them,” he explains. “This is done with the epiphany that just because this person participated in the physical act to give you life, if they don’t also give you love, safety, and respect, then they are not your ‘parent.’”

Brennan-Jobs’s memoir will be released on Sept. 4.

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