What Adoption Did to Steve Jobs
The film Steve Jobs by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin speaks the truth in a way no other film before it has — about Steve Jobs and about the adoption experience for adult adoptees.
This weekend, I went to a local movie theater to view Steve Jobs at the suggestion of my friend venture capitalist Stewart Alsop, who is mentioned in the film. I was born a stone’s throw away from the Apple founder. Like Jobs, I was adopted. My first computer was an Apple IIe. My second a Mac, then a Palm Pilot and every iteration since. iMac. Macbook. iPod. iPhone. iPad. (Add to that the PC/ Windows platform iterations as well . . . I am a woman of many tech gadgets.)
I have always seen Job’s unique persona as one that is inextricably interwoven with his adopted-ness. Though his being adopted has been well-reported, no one seemed to recognize how it, in so many ways, made him who he was. No one ever seemed to put that together until this film. This first scene — the first in a triptych of scenes between Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and Jeff Daniels as former PepsiCo-turned-Apple CEO John Sculley — laid me bare.
It’s having no control. You find out you were out of the loop when the most crucial events of your life were set in motion. As long as you have control . . . I don’t understand people who give it up.” — Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin)
In his book Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson reported that “Jobs confided to close friends that he was driven by the pain he was feeling about being put up for adoption and not knowing about his birth parents.” That drive led him to create an extraordinary persona for himself. He was, in effect, his own creation. A good many adult adoptees do that because we are not the reflections of our adopted parents. Few understood the nuances of Steve Jobs’ inner life as well as Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief of Design.
“So much has been written about Steve, and I don’t recognize my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. ‘Is this good enough? Is this right?’ but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!”
As an adult adopted person, I grew up not knowing who my birth parents were. My adoption records were sealed and remain sealed to this day. My birth certificate was amended and my adoptive parents names are listed as though they gave birth to me. Like Steve Jobs, I realized I was given up or, in coarser terms, “rejected” by my family of origin. Like Jobs, my adopted parents told me that while I wasn’t expected, I was selected.
Being chosen is a story that many well-meaning adopted parents tell their adopted children. In fact, many parents read The Chosen Baby to explain how we came to be adopted and, therefore, special.
However, the chosen baby construct isn’t entirely honest. We were never selected. Rarely, if ever, are adopted parents given the opportunity to “choose” their child from an array of multiple babies. We do not come in litters. Adopted children put that together pretty quickly. On Amazon.com, one adopted adult reviewer of the book adopted a child and was warned not use the book. The reviewer states:
I still had the original book so I re-read it and soon understood the problem. In this book the social worker is telling the prospective parent that they would find just the right baby for her, and not to worry if they didn’t feel that baby was what she wanted, they would find her another one. My mother, whom I loved dearly, used to tell me that she had sent a baby back. She said she had a big head. I’m sure from her perspective she was trying to make me feel special, but did it?
As you view the life of Steve Jobs and other adoptees, know that there’s a flip side to being told one was chosen: the underlying fear that one may be sent back from whence we came if we are not special enough. Clearly, those of us who have gone on to achieve great things do so for a whole host of reasons. For many adult adoptees, adoption provides a compelling reason for achievement.