They’re worse. I don’t know whether the process of getting rich warps them, or only damaged people commit to getting rich.
Take Steve Jobs. We peons knew him as the intense guy in a turtleneck who’d come on stage twice a year to announce the latest cool expensive gadget from his company, but he also had a daughter, sort of. He was a reluctant father who seemed to accept his responsibilities grudgingly, and appeared to actively resent her. And now she has written a revealing book about what it was like to grow up with a cold, aloof father.
Preceding this excerpt, she’d heard that he was so rich that he’d trade in his shiny black Porsche if it got so much as a scratch.
For a long time I hoped that if I played one role, my father would take the corresponding role. I would be the beloved daughter; he would be the indulgent father. I decided that if I acted like other daughters did, he would join in the lark. We’d pretend together, and in pretending we’d make it real. If I had observed him as he was, or admitted to myself what I saw, I would have known that he would not do this, and that a game of pretend would disgust him.
Later that year, I would stay overnight at my father’s house on several Wednesdays while my mother took college classes in San Francisco. On those nights, we ate dinner, took a hot tub outside, and watched old movies. During the car rides to his house, he didn’t talk.
“Can I have it when you’re done?”I asked him one night, as we took a left at the leaning, crumbling white pillars that flanked the thin, bumpy road ending at his gate. I’d been thinking about it for a while but had only just built up the courage to ask.
“Can you have what?” he said.
“This car. Your Porsche.” I wondered where he put the extras. I pictured them in a shiny black line at the back of his land.
“Absolutely not,” he said in such a sour, biting way that I knew I’d made a mistake. I understood that perhaps it wasn’t true, the myth of the scratch: maybe he didn’t buy new ones. By that time I knew he was not generous with money, or food, or words; the idea of the Porsches had seemed like one glorious exception.
I wished I could take it back. We pulled up to the house and he turned off the engine. Before I made a move to get out he turned to face me.
“You’re not getting anything,” he said. “You understand? Nothing. You’re getting nothing.” Did he mean about the car, something else, bigger? I didn’t know. His voice hurt—sharp, in my chest.
If any of my children had asked anything like that (they’d have to ask for a beat-up old Honda instead of a Porsche), that is not the answer I would have given.
“Yes. You can have it. You can have everything. You’re getting it all — I’d give you the world if I could.”
That’s how human beings answer that kind of question.
It’s sad that Lisa Brennan-Jobs did not experience that, growing up.