When the Danny Boyle-directed biopic, Steve Jobs, hit screens in 2015 – starring Michael Fassbender as the tech industry icon – it’s safe to say the film left a lasting impression; scooping two Oscar nominations and winning two Golden Globes. But perhaps what got people talking the most was the depiction of the relationships between the late Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, and his daughter Lisa.
By now it’s relatively well-known that Jobs had a child with his high-school sweetheart, painter and writer Chrisann Brennan, when the couple were both 23, and the ensuing child support scandal, but we haven’t yet heard Lisa’s side of the story.
In Chrisann’s memoir, The Bite in the Apple, she details the case: Jobs denied he was Lisa’s father and left them both without a penny, despite Apple’s growing success. Following a DNA test that proved he was, and a successful court case, Jobs was ordered to pay $385 per month in child support, which was later increased to $500. Just four days later, Apple went public, and Jobs became a millionaire.
Like The Bite in the Apple – which explores their tumultuous love affair and co-parenting relationship – Small Fry (Jobs’ nickname for Lisa when she was a child) is about far more than just money. It explores the lasting affects of a complicated father-daughter relationship, and the process of healing. Some of the memoir’s anecdotes – recalled in almost film-like detail by Lisa – are heartbreaking when seen from her eyes. She describes her “quaking, electric love” for her father, despite his rejections: “Near him, I felt like nothing”. When Lisa was five, Jobs told a journalist from Time magazine that “28% of the male population of the United States could be the father”; he went as far to claim he was “sterile and infertile” until she was nine; he repeatedly denied his daughter’s name was the reason for the Lisa, one of Apple’s first personal computers. Jobs later went on to have three more children with his wife Laurene Powell, and despite finally accepting paternity of Lisa, went on to erase her existence again in adulthood, describing himself to magazine’s and on Apple’s website as the father of three children.
Then there’s the emotional blackmail and manipulation. Jobs certainly isn’t the first successful figure to abandon a child to focus on his own self-advancement – as Lisa puts it, “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.” – yet he seems to display a deliberate unkindness towards her, making cruel comments and dipping in and out of her life at whim; an unpredictability that wounded more than his absence.
“You’re not getting anything,” he snaps at nine-year-old Lisa when she asks winsomely if she can have his Porsche when he’s done. “You understand? Nothing. You’re getting nothing.” When she lived with him as a teenager, he refused to get the heating fixed in her room.
He stopped paying her Harvard tuition fees after her first year – leaving Lisa no choice but to drop out, until wealthy
neighbours who’d befriended her stepped in and paid (it wasn’t until years later that Jobs reimbursed them). She had to follow strict rules in order to be considered part of his family: be home early, not spend too much time with her mother, respect his total authority.
"When I started writing it, there was a lot of self-pity," Lisa said of the memoir. "I would try to get the reader to feel bad for me and it turned out that it doesn't really work on the page. So what I had to do was go back into the stories that weren't working and understand where my part in them was.”
And Small Fry isn’t weighed down by emotional abuse, it’s as much a coming-of-age love letter to the hazy hippie days of 70s California; unfolding into the 80s and the rise of Silicon Valley – a new world of mansions, holidays and private schools – as it is a poignant portrait of a complex family living in separate and disparate worlds. One thing is for sure though, once you read it, you’ll never think of Steve Jobs the same way again.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is available for pre-order now (released 13th September) at Amazon.co.uk
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