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Lisa Brennan-Jobs spoke with the New York Times in a profile published on Thursday about her upcoming memoir, Small Fry, and her relationship with her late father, Steve Jobs.
While dozens of films and biographies have given the public glimpses into her father’s life, Brennan-Jobs is using the book to tell her side of the story. She was born when Jobs was 23. He had actively denied that he was her father, though a paternity test proved otherwise. Small Fry recounts many memories of Jobs being vicious toward Brennan-Jobs, such as refusing to put heat in her bedroom and telling her that she smelled “like a toilet.”
Regarding the toilet comment, Brennan-Jobs says that her father was just being honest. “He was telling me the truth,” she explains about the perfume she was wearing at the time. “I wasn’t aware of it. Sometimes it’s nice of someone to tell you what you smell like.”
“When I started writing I didn’t think he’d be so interesting on the page, and I was almost frustrated that he pulled so much gravity,” says Brennan-Jobs about her father.
Small Fry also recounts an inappropriate moment when Jobs and wife Laurene Powell Jobs were getting intimate in front of Brennan-Jobs. “‘Hey Lis,’ he said. ‘Stay here. We’re having a family moment. It’s important that you try to be part of this family.’ I sat still, looking away as he moaned and undulated,” she writes in the memoir after stating that she tried to leave.
Though her relationship with her father was unconventional, Brennan-Jobs says in the interview that she never felt threatened by her father, “just awkward.”
“I see my husband and the way he is with his daughters — responsive and alive and sensitive in ways my father would have liked to be,” she says about her husband, Bill, who has two kids from a previous relationship. “My father would have loved to be a man like that, and he surrounded himself with men like that, but he couldn’t be.”
The book mentions that Jobs finally apologized to his daughter toward the end of his life, specifically for not spending more time with her, disappearing during her adulthood, not returning her messages and forgetting her birthday. She refers to the apology as her “movie ending.”
Brennan-Jobs writes in Small Fry that her father justified his cold attitude toward her because she offended him. “It wasn’t because I was busy. It was because I was mad you didn’t invite me to the Harvard weekend,” she recalls him saying in the book.
She was included in her father’s inheritance and received a figure in the millions. She is not involved in the distribution of his financial legacy, though if she was she would give the billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is an interesting choice for Brennan-Jobs considering her father’s rivalry with Apple.
“Would it be too perverse?” she asks in the New York Times story. “I feel like the Gates Foundation is really doing good stuff, and I think I would just hot potato it away.”
When she looks back at her father’s strict parenting style, she says that the ethos “felt true and kind of beautiful and kind of enlightened for somebody like that.” She then wonders “why he would have taken that value system and applied it so severely to me.”
“You can have a value system and be unable to totally live it,” she continues. “And you can imagine being that rich and famous and how amazing it is if you can hold on to some of your value system. He didn’t do it right. He didn’t apply it evenly. But I feel grateful for it.”
In response, Powell Jobs and her children, along with Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson, said in a statement that the details in Small Fry differ “dramatically” from their collective memories.
“Lisa is part of our family, so it was with sadness that we read her book, which differs dramatically from our memories of those times,” reads the family statement. “The portrayal of Steve is not the husband and father we knew. Steve loved Lisa, and he regretted that he was not the father he should have been during her early childhood. It was a great comfort to Steve to have Lisa home with all of us during the last days of his life, and we are all grateful for the years we spent together as a family.”
Aug. 23, 1:15 p.m. Updated with family statement.
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