I was reading a review this morning of the new movie “Jobs,” an account of Steve Jobs’ career. Now I’m a Mac guy and a big fan of Jobs, but even his biggest fans would acknowledge that he was a genius with very serious personal flaws. This review brought it all back.
He dropped out of Reed College, an elite private school in Oregon for other pursuits – Eastern philosophy and hallucinogenic drugs, among other things. He was a bully, prone to rages and tantrums
when things didn’t go exactly his way. He could be utterly cold-hearted and cruel to people, almost sadistic, and take pride in his behavior as if it were a character strength. He was a demanding perfectionist whom Fortune Magazine once dubbed “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.” At night, he would go home to his wife of 20+ years, Laurene, and his three kids in Palo Alto. I’m not aware of any similar discord at home, but then I haven’t yet read his book. That might explain any inconsistencies in his behavior at home and at work.
Where did this behavior come from in someone who was otherwise so gifted? An attachment disorder? Maybe.
According to Wikipedia, Jobs’ Syrian-born biological father and Swiss-American girlfriend (Jobs’ mother) met at the University of Wisconsin, where they studied and taught. When Jobs was born in 1955, his father said he had no choice but to put him up for adoption because his girlfriend’s family objected to their relationship.
Jobs was adopted at birth by Paul and Clara Jobs. Later in his life, when asked about his adoptive parents, Jobs was emphatic: “Paul and Clara Jobs were my parents 1,000%.” Unknown to him, his biological parents subsequently married and had a second child, novelist Mona Simpson, in 1957.
In the 1980s, Jobs found his birth mother and his biological sister, Mona, with whom he became very close. In a 60 Minutes interview Jobs reported, “When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father as well, and I learned a little bit about him and didn’t like what I learned. I asked her to not tell him that we ever met … not tell him anything about me.” When speaking about his biological parents, Jobs stated, “They were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was, a sperm bank thing, nothing more.”
Jobs rebuffed his biological father’s efforts to connect with him.
A Google search led me to the blog, childmyths, which raised the question about Steve Jobs’ difficult personality and its attribution to his early abandonment and adoption. On October 26, 2011, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about Jobs in “Limits Of Magical Thinking”. She didn’t necessarily claim that Jobs’ behavior was rooted in his adoption history, but quoted others close to him who thought it was.
I can’t claim to answer this question here, but it certainly looks to me as though there was a connection between his early abandonment and his behavior. If you’re curious, buy the book, “Steve Jobs,” or see the movie, and judge for yourself.
John Brooks is a former senior media financial executive who has turned to writing, suicide and adoption advocacy since his adopted daughter Casey’s death in 2008. He recently completed a memoir — The Girl Behind The Door: My Journey Into The Mysteries Of Attachment — about his experience as an adoptive father and his journey to understand his daughter’s suicide. He also writes a blog, ParentingandAttachment.com.