Reading the Steve Jobs Biography with the Wolvog (Part One)
I was not planning to read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson at all. I mean, yes, perhaps, at some way distant future date if it became available on Overdrive, but certainly not now in the middle of all the hoopla about the book.
The twins and I were early to meet Josh for tapas so we ducked into the library to see if they had the soundtrack to Evita (all part of their much dreaded musical theater education — dreaded both by them as well as Josh, especially when I pop Chess into the CD player). And there, positioned right by the door, staring at us as we entered from a display case was Steve Jobs’s piercing stare.
The Wolvog immediately let out a breath and quietly said, “Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeve.”
Which sort of decided it then and there.
We are reading it together, by which I mean that I am reading it after he goes to bed at night and then telling him stories in the morning. Relaying Jobs’s stench from his lack of bathing coupled with his fruitarian diet, and stories about the Woz (which often strike me as a better personality match for my son; they both have the same sweet temperament, wondrous view of the world, and a fondness for dogs), and all the kismet moments that shaped the computer industry. Discussion about adoption plays heavily in the first 100 pages of the book due to both his own adoption as well as the daughter he had with Chrisann Brennan.
I thought I would place my thoughts here. The Wolvog and I are reading it together, but if you want to hear the story, you can figuratively read it with me too.
As we walked around the library holding the copy of the biography, people kept saying to us, “you are so lucky! That just got put out ten minutes ago.” It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The librarian finally finished logging the new book into their system, she set it on the shelf, and I walked in at that moment.
I’ve never really had people comment on the luck of our library borrowing choices, but as I carried that book, I felt like I had a spotlight shining on me. It actually made me feel fairly uncomfortable; maybe not the first time someone said it, but certainly by the third time.
So it was interesting that one of the first ideas covered in the book is the idea of being special. The concept of specialness, and do people enjoy feeling as if they’re set apart; even when the apartness comes from something such as intelligence or luck.
While other people in the book hypothesized about how Steve Jobs’s birth and adoption shaped his personality, Steve Jobs himself dismissed their theories. And frankly, I’m going to go with Steve Jobs — the adoptee — on this one and believe him (I know other people are second-guessing him, which seems sort of strange for one person to say that they understand more about the other person’s life than the person who lived it). He didn’t feel the adoption itself shaped him at all, but rather being told by his parents that he was special, that he was chosen, that he was waited for and loved beyond belief — that is what he felt played a bigger role in how he saw his place in the world.
In the book, Isaacson writes,
Jobs dismissed this. “There’s some notion that because I was abandoned, I worked very hard so I could do well and make my parents wish they had me back, or some such nonsense, but that’s ridiculous,” he insisted. “Knowing I was adopted may have made me feel more independent, but I have never felt abandoned. I’ve always felt special. My parents made me feel special” (page 5).
The book continues to talk for many many many more pages about how that concept of believing he was special affected how he interacted with others, how he believed in himself, and how he convinced others that the impossible was possible.
At the same time, I have read on plenty of donor-conceived and adoptee blogs (and I’m sure, in the future, IVF-conceived childrens’ blogs) that being told you are special can be damaging. That it can make a person feel apart, and not in the good way that Jobs describes where he feels more loved, more cherished than other children. Apartness can sometimes simply feel alienating.
I can sense from the twins that uniqueness has both a push-me-pull-you effect: they love being twins and different from all the singletons, but they don’t like being different from all the singletons. They like to hear stories about their preterm birth and the NICU days, but they don’t want their friends to know about it or see pictures of them from that time period. They don’t really know yet that children are conceived in other ways than in a fertility clinic (oh, this is the fantastic side effect of having non-sexually conceived children. You can tell them how they were made without ever having to mention sex), but they have been told countless times how much they were wanted, how hard we wished for them, how long we waited for them, and how much they are loved. There has not been a day of their life that has passed without the two of us uttering the words, “I love you” to them. We tell them they are brilliant and funny — we tell them that they are great writers and artists and computer programmers.
Because all those things are true, and I don’t think there are real benefits from withholding effusiveness. Which is not to say that there can’t be damage from that effusiveness, but I don’t think the opposite is true — I don’t think there are actual benefits from not complimenting your child.
Which is along way of asking how does one know which way it will go? For Steve Jobs, he says that hearing all his life that he was special and wanted and chosen gave him the confidence to plow ahead, charting his own course rather than taking the familiar road of a standard engineering path. I might not have my iPad if Clara and Paul Jobs hadn’t conveyed that idea to their son. And at the same time, for so many children, they have the opposite reaction. They talk about the burden of specialness. The apartness that comes from feeling the weight of their parent’s love, especially when they were brought into a family after a long wait or in a unique manner.
And without knowing how it will go, how do we know how loudly to turn on the message? Do we whisper it? Say it in a normal tone of voice? Scream it like Clara and Paul Jobs? Not say it at all? How do we know when we also hear that volume counts — that the amount we say things can shift a life in one direction or another?