Steve Jobs’ daughter talks about her big secret

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Lisa
Lisa, photographed in 2005.
Photo: Lisa Brennan-Jobs/Wikipedia CC

Lisa Brennan Jobs, the oldest daughter of Steve Jobs, is coming out with her first book next month. Part of the story grapples with their complicated relationship. (He denied being her father at first.)

In an excerpt from her book, Small Fry, posted today, Lisa Brennan Jobs gives glimpses into some of her dad’s last months. She also talks about how it affected her psyche when he named the Lisa computer after her but didn’t admit it to her until she was 27.

Lisa reveals in the chapter posted by Vanity Fair that she was given her name after her parents flipped through a baby-name book while lying in a field with her on a blanket. Apparently, the couple couldn’t agree on a name at first, but when Chrisann Brennan suggested Lisa, Steve Jobs said it was the one.

Naming the computer after Lisa

The name would later be used for Apple’s Lisa Computer. It was the first personal computer with a graphical interface, pushing computers into the mainstream. The product was a flop because it was too overpriced. Steve Jobs abandoned the team to work on the Macintosh, which took some of the Lisa computer’s best elements — like the mouse — and put it on the Macintosh.

Instead of admitting the computer was named after his daughter, Jobs said Lisa stood for Locally Integrated Software Architecture.

“The idea that he’d named the failed computer after me was woven in with my sense of self, even if he did not confirm it, and I used this story to bolster myself when, near him, I felt like nothing. I didn’t care about computers—they were made of fixed metal parts and chips with glinting lines inside plastic cases—but I liked the idea that I was connected to him in this way. It would mean I’d been chosen and had a place, despite the fact that he was aloof or absent. It meant I was fastened to the earth and its machines. He was famous; he drove a Porsche. If the Lisa was named after me, I was a part of all that.

I see now that we were at cross-purposes. 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. 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.

Bono to the rescue

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper old Apple story if there wasn’t a random cameo from Bono. The U2 singer played a role in Steve Jobs finally admitting to naming the computer after Lisa.

Jobs took his entire family to Bono’s Mediterranean villa when Lisa was 27. During a conversation about the start of Apple and beginning of U2, Jobs and Bono talked about how they both felt they were on the cusp of changed the world. The Lisa computer came up in the discussion and Bono asked if he named it after his daughter.

My father hesitated, looked down at his plate for a long moment, and then back at Bono. “Yeah, it was,” he said.

I sat up in my chair.

“I thought so,” Bono said.

“Yup,” my father said.

I studied my father’s face. What had changed? Why had he admitted it now, after all these years? Of course, it was named after me, I thought then. His lie seemed preposterous now. I felt a new power that pulled my chest up.

“That’s the first time he’s said yes,” I told Bono. “Thank you for asking.”

The entire excerpt is well worth a read and full of other interesting tidbits about Jobs, how stingy he was with money, his temper and insistence on privacy.