Published in Creative Wisconsin, Vol. 2, Winter 2011


The moment the death of a celebrity or a notable person is announced, the news media bombards us with highlights, accomplishments, failures and sometimes the most miniscule and ridiculous facts and figures of their life and work. So, today and for the last week, the passing of Steve Jobs is everywhere. Accolades, well deserved, are flooding the airways. An icon has left us. The void will be large. Steve Jobs revolutionized personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, digital publishing and their marketing.

The quirky news items also abound. One headline announcing his death says: “Steve Jobs: Arab-American, Buddhist, Psychedelic Drug User, and Capitalist World-Changer.” Having been adopted, he’s become the poster child for adoption and against abortion with some asking what would the world be like if Jobs had been aborted? An Indian adoption agency is launching a new campaign with a similar message. Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in one of our wars, plans to demonstrate at Job’s funeral. Jobs, they believe is the devil, evil, because he’s taking credit for the iphone when we all know that only god creates things; ironically their leader used an iphone to announce the groups plans and the schedule.

I hardly knew who Steve Jobs was until he died. I have vague recollections of a very thin man in jeans and a black turtleneck, standing on a stage, eclipsed by a large screen, displaying something new and exciting. I also recall my friend, Julie, telling me of her exasperation when her physician husband turned into a fourteen year old boy, standing in line at the mall to be one of the first to have an iPad.

I don’t own any of Steve Jobs famous inventions. I don’t tweet or text, do facebook or have a camera on my simple little tracfone, don’t know what apps are for and can’t be convinced that I’m missing anything. I did a google to find out what the “i” in iphone means. Interesting that there is no definitive answer, but lots of conjecture. Here are the guesses: it means “I” as in me, industrial, internet, identity, intelligent, intel, information, interactive. If this keeps up, soon we’ll have used every “I” word in the dictionary. The most credible answer is that this never was an official Apple connection but a marketing ploy tacked onto the original iMac because it was supposed to be operational right out of the box, therefore instant.

With his death, the facts about his private life, which he carefully guarded, tell a compelling story far beyond his work. Steve Jobs was a mixed race child born of a Syrian father and a Swiss-American mother while they were graduate students at a Wisconsin university. His biological father had attempted recent contact with no success but Jobs had a relationship with this half sister, author Mona Simpson.

He was adopted at birth, by all accounts, to a functioning family with the father, a machinist, who put in lots of tinkering, garage time with the young boy. His biological parents had insisted he be adopted by college graduates, a plan that went awry when the chosen couple, at the last minute, decided they wanted a girl. Jobs, not a college graduate himself, spent a little more than a semester “dropping in” on classes that caught his attention at Reed College in Oregon. The one he found most helpful was calligraphy. He dropped out of college because he didn’t think his parents should spend so much money on something he found useless. Jobs has four children from two relationships and was reportedly a devoted father and husband. He lived for some time in an ashram in India.

The adoption story is getting a lot of attention. Nancy Verrier, author, psychotherapist and mother of an adopted child and a biological child wrote The Primal Wound. In it she states that no matter what caused relinquishment, the child always feels abandoned. Being left by your parent, no matter when, is traumatic. In the continuing nature/nurture discussion, the latest hot theory is usually replaced next year with a new one. Who really knows how a child is affected. In this case, things seemed to have turned out just fine. When thinking about the attachment issues so common in adopted and foster children, perhaps this explains Job’s well known discipline and drive, his perfectionism, need to control all aspects of his work and his life. And maybe not.

In 2004, he first approached Walter Isaccson, a former Time editor, to write an approved biography; at first Isaccson was dismissive about such a young man needing a biography but he changed his mind after finding out that Jobs was being treated for a rare form of pancreatic cancer. On their last visit, days before his death, Isaccson asked Jobs why he had been so open in the book. “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.” This man, who had been abandoned, didn’t repeat. Perhaps this Zen-like message, from his now famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 reflects him the best:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs conquered the world. At least the electronic, technology part of the world that leaves most of us mystified. And he did it his way. With all his organizational and visionary skills that contributed to his highly productive and successful life, he still fell to a force greater than he. But with his biography, he leaves a legacy to his children and to the world. In his own words.

Most people will remember Steve Jobs through his ipod, iphone, ipad and all the rest. He will also be remembered as the tough, dismissive and demanding boss he was. I choose to remember him in how he conducted his life, how he lived what he preached and how he tied it all up in a neat little package in the end.



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