He Who Is Abandoned . . .
Ever since they had lived together in a cabin during the summer after he graduated from high school, Chrisann Brennan had woven in and out of Jobs’s life. When he returned from India in 1974, they spent time together at Robert Friedland’s farm. “Steve invited me up there, and we were just young and easy and free,” she recalled. “There was an energy there that went to my heart.”
When they moved back to Los Altos, their relationship drifted into being, for the most part, merely friendly. He lived at home and worked at Atari; she had a small apartment and spent a lot of time at Kobun Chino’s Zen center. By early 1975 she had begun a relationship with a mutual friend, Greg Calhoun. “She was with Greg, but went back to Steve occasionally,” according to Elizabeth Holmes. “That was pretty much the way it was with all of us. We were sort of shifting back and forth; it was the seventies, after all.”
Calhoun had been at Reed with Jobs, Friedland, Kottke, and Holmes. Like the others, he became deeply involved with Eastern spirituality, dropped out of Reed, and found his way to Friedland’s farm. There he moved into an eight-by twenty-foot chicken coop that he converted into a little house by raising it onto cinderblocks and building a sleeping loft inside. In the spring of 1975 Brennan moved in with him, and the next year they decided to make their own pilgrimage to India. Jobs advised Calhoun not to take Brennan with him, saying that she would interfere with his spiritual quest, but they went together anyway. “I was just so impressed by what happened to Steve on his trip to India that I wanted to go there,” she said.
Theirs was a serious trip, beginning in March 1976 and lasting almost a year. At one point they ran out of money, so Calhoun hitchhiked to Iran to teach English in Tehran. Brennan stayed in India, and when Calhoun’s teaching stint was over they hitchhiked to meet each other in the middle, in Afghanistan. The world was a very different place back then.
After a while their relationship frayed, and they returned from India separately. By the summer of 1977 Brennan had moved back to Los Altos, where she lived for a while in a tent on the grounds of Kobun Chino’s Zen center. By this time Jobs had moved out of his parents’ house and was renting a $600 per month suburban ranch house in Cupertino with Daniel Kottke. It was an odd scene of free-spirited hippie types living in a tract house they dubbed Rancho Suburbia. “It was a four-bedroom house, and we occasionally rented one of the bedrooms out to all sorts of crazy people, including a stripper for a while,” recalled Jobs. Kottke couldn’t quite figure out why Jobs had not just gotten his own house, which he could have afforded by then. “I think he just wanted to have a roommate,” Kottke speculated.
Even though her relationship with Jobs was sporadic, Brennan soon moved in as well. This made for a set of living arrangements worthy of a French farce. The house had two big bedrooms and two tiny ones. Jobs, not surprisingly, commandeered the largest of them, and Brennan (who was not really living with him) moved into the other big bedroom. “The two middle rooms were like for babies, and I didn’t want either of them, so I moved into the living room and slept on a foam pad,” said Kottke. They turned one of the small rooms into space for meditating and dropping acid, like the attic space they had used at Reed. It was filled with foam packing material from Apple boxes. “Neighborhood kids used to come over and we would toss them in it and it was great fun,” said Kottke, “but then Chrisann brought home some cats who peed in the foam, and then we had to get rid of it.”
Living in the house at times rekindled the physical relationship between Brennan and Jobs, and within a few months she was pregnant. “Steve and I were in and out of a relationship for five years before I got pregnant,” she said. “We didn’t know how to be together and we didn’t know how to be apart.” When Greg Calhoun hitchhiked from Colorado to visit them on Thanksgiving 1977, Brennan told him the news: “Steve and I got back together, and now I’m pregnant, but now we are on again and off again, and I don’t know what to do.”
Calhoun noticed that Jobs was disconnected from the whole situation. He even tried to convince Calhoun to stay with them and come to work at Apple. “Steve was just not dealing with Chrisann or the pregnancy,” he recalled. “He could be very engaged with you in one moment, but then very disengaged. There was a side to him that was frighteningly cold.”
When Jobs did not want to deal with a distraction, he sometimes just ignored it, as if he could will it out of existence. At times he was able to distort reality not just for others but even for himself. In the case of Brennan’s pregnancy, he simply shut it out of his mind. When confronted, he would deny that he knew he was the father, even though he admitted that he had been sleeping with her. “I wasn’t sure it was my kid, because I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one she was sleeping with,” he told me later. “She and I were not really even going out when she got pregnant. She just had a room in our house.” Brennan had no doubt that Jobs was the father. She had not been involved with Greg or any other men at the time.
Was he lying to himself, or did he not know that he was the father? “I just think he couldn’t access that part of his brain or the idea of being responsible,” Kottke said. Elizabeth Holmes agreed: “He considered the option of parenthood and considered the option of not being a parent, and he decided to believe the latter. He had other plans for his life.”
There was no discussion of marriage. “I knew that she was not the person I wanted to marry, and we would never be happy, and it wouldn’t last long,” Jobs later said. “I was all in favor of her getting an abortion, but she didn’t know what to do. She thought about it repeatedly and decided not to, or I don’t know that she ever really decided—I think time just decided for her.” Brennan told me that it was her choice to have the baby: “He said he was fine with an abortion but never pushed for it.” Interestingly, given his own background, he was adamantly against one option. “He strongly discouraged me putting the child up for adoption,” she said.
There was a disturbing irony. Jobs and Brennan were both twenty-three, the same age that Joanne Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali had been when they had Jobs. He had not yet tracked down his biological parents, but his adoptive parents had told him some of their tale. “I didn’t know then about this coincidence of our ages, so it didn’t affect my discussions with Chrisann,” he later said. He dismissed the notion that he was somehow following his biological father’s pattern of getting his girlfriend pregnant when he was twenty-three, but he did admit that the ironic resonance gave him pause. “When I did find out that he was twenty-three when he got Joanne pregnant with me, I thought, whoa!”
The relationship between Jobs and Brennan quickly deteriorated. “Chrisann would get into this kind of victim mode, when she would say that Steve and I were ganging up on her,” Kottke recalled. “Steve would just laugh and not take her seriously.” Brennan was not, as even she later admitted, very emotionally stable. She began breaking plates, throwing things, trashing the house, and writing obscene words in charcoal on the wall. She said that Jobs kept provoking her with his callousness: “He was an enlightened being who was cruel.” Kottke was caught in the middle. “Daniel didn’t have that DNA of ruthlessness, so he was a bit flipped by Steve’s behavior,” according to Brennan. “He would go from ‘Steve’s not treating you right’ to laughing at me with Steve.”
Robert Friedland came to her rescue. “He heard that I was pregnant, and he said to come on up to the farm to have the baby,” she recalled. “So I did.” Elizabeth Holmes and other friends were still living there, and they found an Oregon midwife to help with the delivery. On May 17, 1978, Brennan gave birth to a baby girl. Three days later Jobs flew up to be with them and help name the new baby. The practice on the commune was to give children Eastern spiritual names, but Jobs insisted that she had been born in America and ought to have a name that fit. Brennan agreed. They named her Lisa Nicole Brennan, not giving her the last name Jobs. And then he left to go back to work at Apple. “He didn’t want to have anything to do with her or with me,” said Brennan.
She and Lisa moved to a tiny, dilapidated house in back of a home in Menlo Park. They lived on welfare because Brennan did not feel up to suing for child support. Finally, the County of San Mateo sued Jobs to try to prove paternity and get him to take financial responsibility. At first Jobs was determined to fight the case. His lawyers wanted Kottke to testify that he had never seen them in bed together, and they tried to line up evidence that Brennan had been sleeping with other men. “At one point I yelled at Steve on the phone, ‘You know that is not true,’” Brennan recalled. “He was going to drag me through court with a little baby and try to prove I was a whore and that anyone could have been the father of that baby.”
A year after Lisa was born, Jobs agreed to take a paternity test. Brennan’s family was surprised, but Jobs knew that Apple would soon be going public and he decided it was best to get the issue resolved. DNA tests were new, and the one that Jobs took was done at UCLA. “I had read about DNA testing, and I was happy to do it to get things settled,” he said. The results were pretty dispositive. “Probability of paternity . . . is 94.41%,” the report read. The California courts ordered Jobs to start paying $385 a month in child support, sign an agreement admitting paternity, and reimburse the county $5,856 in back welfare payments. He was given visitation rights but for a long time didn’t exercise them.
Even then Jobs continued at times to warp the reality around him. “He finally told us on the board,” Arthur Rock recalled, “but he kept insisting that there was a large probability that he wasn’t the father. He was delusional.” He told a reporter for Time, Michael Moritz, that when you analyzed the statistics, it was clear that “28% of the male population in the United States could be the father.” It was not only a false claim but an odd one. Worse yet, when Chrisann Brennan later heard what he said, she mistakenly thought that Jobs was hyperbolically claiming that she might have slept with 28% of the men in the United States. “He was trying to paint me as a slut or a whore,” she recalled. “He spun the whore image onto me in order to not take responsibility.”
Years later Jobs was remorseful for the way he behaved, one of the few times in his life he admitted as much:
I wish I had handled it differently. I could not see myself as a father then, so I didn’t face up to it. But when the test results showed she was my daughter, it’s not true that I doubted it. I agreed to support her until she was eighteen and give some money to Chrisann as well. I found a house in Palo Alto and fixed it up and let them live there rent-free. Her mother found her great schools which I paid for. I tried to do the right thing. But if I could do it over, I would do a better job.
Once the case was resolved, Jobs began to move on with his life—maturing in some respects, though not all. He put aside drugs, eased away from being a strict vegan, and cut back the time he spent on Zen retreats. He began getting stylish haircuts and buying suits and shirts from the upscale San Francisco haberdashery Wilkes Bashford. And he settled into a serious relationship with one of Regis McKenna’s employees, a beautiful Polynesian-Polish woman named Barbara Jasinski.
There was still, to be sure, a childlike rebellious streak in him. He, Jasinski, and Kottke liked to go skinny-dipping in Felt Lake on the edge of Interstate 280 near Stanford, and he bought a 1966 BMW R60/2 motorcycle that he adorned with orange tassels on the handlebars. He could also still be bratty. He belittled waitresses and frequently returned food with the proclamation that it was “garbage.” At the company’s first Halloween party, in 1979, he dressed in robes as Jesus Christ, an act of semi-ironic self-awareness that he considered funny but that caused a lot of eye rolling. Even his initial stirrings of domesticity had some quirks. He bought a proper house in the Los Gatos hills, which he adorned with a Maxfield Parrish painting, a Braun coffeemaker, and Henckels knives. But because he was so obsessive when it came to selecting furnishings, it remained mostly barren, lacking beds or chairs or couches. Instead his bedroom had a mattress in the center, framed pictures of Einstein and Maharaj-ji on the walls, and an Apple II on the floor.