10 Unusual Things You Probably Don't Know About Steve Jobs

I was standing right next to Steve Jobs in 1989 and it was the closest thing I ever felt to being gay. The guy was incredibly wealthy, good looking enough to get any girl, a nerd super-rockstar who had just convinced my school to buy a bunch of NeXT machines (which, btw, were in fact the best machines to program on at the time) and I just wanted to be him. I wanted to be him ever since I had the Apple II+ as a kid. Ever since I shoplifted Ultima II, Castle Wolfenstein, and half a dozen other games that my friends and I would then rip from each other and pretend to be sick so we could stay home and play all day.

I don't care about Apple's (AAPL) stock. (Well, I do think it will be the first trillion dollar company.) Or about his business successes. That's boring. The only thing that matters to me is how Steve Jobs became the greatest artist that ever lived. You only get to be an artist like that by turning everything in your life upside down, by making horrible, ugly, mistakes, by doing things so differently that people will never be able to figure you out. By failing, cheating, lying, having everyone hate you, and coming out the other side with a little bit more wisdom than the rest. So that said, here are the most unusual things that I didn't know about Steve Jobs.

10 Unusual Things About Steve Jobs

1) Nature versus Nurture. His sister is Mona Simpson but he didn't know it until he was an adult. Mona Simpson was one of my favorite novelists from the late 80s. Her first novel, Anywhere but Here, was about her relationship with her parents. Which, ironically, was Steve Jobs parents. But since Steve Jobs was adopted (see below) they didn't know they were brother-sister until the 90s when he tracked her down. Its proof (to an extent) of the nature versus nurture argument. Two kids, without knowing they were brother and sister, both having a unique sensibility of life on this planet to become among the best artists in the world in completely different endeavors. And, to me it was great that I was a fan of both without realizing (even before they realized) that they were related.

2) His father's name is Abdulfattah Jandali. If you had to ask me what Steve Job's father's name was I never in one zillion years would've guessed that and that Steve Jobs biologically was half Syrian Muslim. For some reason I thought he was Jewish. Maybe it's because I wanted to be him so I projected my own background onto him. His parents were two graduate students who I guess weren't sure if they were ready for a kid so put him up for adoption and then a few years later had another kid (see above). So I didn't know he was adopted.

The one requirement his biological parents had was that he be adopted by two college educated people. But the couple that adopted him lied at first and turned out not to be college educated (the mom was not a high school graduate) so the deal almost fell through until they promised to send Steve to college. A promise they couldn't keep (see below). So despite many layers of lies and promises broken, it all worked out in the end. People can save a lot of hassle by not having such high expectations and overly ambitious worries in the first place.

3) He made the game "Breakout." If there was one thing I loved almost as much as the games on the Apple II+ it was playing Breakout on my first-generation Atari (I can't remember, was that the Atari 2600?) And then breakout on every version of my Blackberry since 2000. If he had never done anything else in life and I had met him and he said, "I'm the guy who made Breakout", I would've said, "you are the greatest genius of the past 100 years." Funny how things turn out. He went on from Atari to form Apple. Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, went to form the greatest restaurant chain in the history of mankind: Chuck E. Cheese.

4) He denied paternity on his first child, claiming he was sterile. The other had to initially raise the kid using welfare checks. I have no judgment on this at all. Raising kids is hard. And when you have a kid you feel like this enormous energy and creativity you have for the world is going to get misdirected into a ... little baby (Jobs' parents must've felt that way as well. Like father, like son). Heck, originally wanted my first kid to be aborted. But people change, mature, grow up. Eventually Jobs became a good father. And that's what counts in the end. Much worse if it was the reverse. I didn't know this either: that the Lisa computer (the "Apple III") was named after this first child.

5) He's a pescetarian. In other words, he eats fish but no other meat. And he eats anything else a vegetarian eats (including eggs and dairy). Turns out if you compare pescetarians with regular meat-eaters they have a 34% less chance of dying of heart disease. And if you compare vegetarians with meat eaters, they only have a 20% less chance of dying of heart disease. I think from now on I'm going to be a pescetarian, just because Steve Jobs is one. Except when I'm in Argentina. In Argentina you have to eat steak. Ted Danson and Mary Tyler Moore consider themselves pescetarians. Somehow, even the world "pescetarian" seems like it was invented in California.

6) He doesn't give any money to charity. And when he became Apple's CEO he stopped all of its philanthropic programs. He said, "wait until we are profitable". Now Apple is profitable, and sitting on $40 billion in cash, and still no corporate philanthropy. I actually think Jobs is probably the most charitable guy on the planet. Rather than focus on which mosquitoes to kill in Africa (Bill Gates is already focusing on that), Jobs has put his energy into massively improving quality of life with all of his inventions.

People think that entrepreneurs have to some day "give back". This is not true. They already gave at the office. Look at the entire ipod/Mac/iphone/Disney ecosystem and ask how many lives have benefited directly (because they've been hired) or indirectly (because they use the products to improve their quality of life). As far as I know, Jobs has never even commented about his thoughts on charity. Good for him. As one CEO of a (currently) Fortune 10 company once told me when I had my hand out for a charitable website, "Screw charity!"

7) He lied to Steve Wozniak. When they made Breakout for Atari, Wozniak and Jobs were going to split the pay 50-50. Atari gave Jobs $5,000 to do the job. He told Wozniak he got $700 so Wozniak took home $350. Again, no judgment. Young people do things. Show me someone who says he's been honest from the day he was born and I'll show you a liar. Its by making mistakes, having fights, finding out where your real boundaries in life are, that allow you to truly know where the boundaries are.

8) He's a Zen Buddhist. He even thought about joining a monastery and becoming a monk. His guru, a Zen monk, married him and his wife. When I was going through some of my hardest times my only relief was sitting with a Zen group. Trying to quiet the mind to deal with the onrush of non-stop pain that was trying to invade there. The interesting thing about Jobs being a Zen Buddhist is that most people would think that serious Buddhism and being one of the wealthiest people in the world come into conflict with each other. Isn't Buddhism about non-attachment? Didn't Buddha himself leave his riches and family behind?

But the answer is "no". Its normal to pursue passions and outcomes, but just not to become overly attached to those outcomes. Being happy regardless of the outcome. A great story is the Zen master and his student walking by a river. A prostitute was there and needed to be carried over the river. The Zen master picked her up and carried her across the river and then put her down. Then the master and student kept walking. A few hours later the student was so agitated he finally had to ask, "Master, how could you touch and help that prostitute! That's against what we believe in!" And the Master said, "I left her by the river. Why are you still carrying her?"

9) He didn't go to college. I actually didn't know this initially. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are the famous college dropouts that I knew about. But apparently Steve Jobs went to Reed College for one semester and then dropped out. I guess you don't need college to program computers, make computers, build businesses, make movies, manage people, etc. (Of course, you can see all my other reasons on why Kids should not even consider going to college these days!)

10) Psychedelics. Steve Jobs used LSD at least once when he was younger. In fact, he said about the experience, it was "one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life." Apple's slogan for many years was "Think Different". Maybe using a drug which tore him from the normal frame of reference taught him how to look at problems from such a unique perspective. I don't think LSD is for everyone, but when you combine it with the innate genius the man had, plus the many ups and downs that he experienced, plus the Zen Buddhism and all of the other things above, its quite possible it all adds up to the many inventions he's been able to produce.

Steve Jobs' story is filled with nuance and ambiguity. People study Steve Jobs by looking at his straightforward business successes. Yes, he started Apple in a garage. Yes, he started Pixar and almost went broke with it. Yes, he started and sold Next and he was fired as CEO of Apple, and blah blah blah. But none of that will ever explain the man behind the genius. None of that will explain all the products he invented that we use today. None of that will tell us about the iPad, Toy Story, the Mac Air, the Apple II+, etc. A man's successes can be truly understood only if we can count his tears. And unfortunately in the case of Steve Jobs, that is one task that's impossible.

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29 Comments

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Im THE Lurker

It's appalling to me how this clown Altucher defends ANY unscrupulous thing Jobs does. He screws over Wozniac out of 86% of what he earned with Jobs, but this clown has no judgment?
And no judgment about the welfare of his daughter?

If anything, these things illustrate the true character (or lack thereof) of this DYING MAN! Karma is a mothe**uc*er!

Good luck with your AAPL long. This will go the way of every other bubble stock in history. It will round trip back down.......

September 06 2011 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cnslr

Steve Jobs is an *******. He was already a multi-millionaire, but he still made his child and his child's mother live on Welfare?! He will burn in Hell for that one.

Author: I hope you make it to the ER soon enough to have your head surgically removed from Steve Jobs ass.

August 25 2011 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PierreMinik

Giving to charity and brag about it seems even less "zen buddhist"-ic to me. Who knows what he does with his money? It's not like any charity organization will refuse to take money if it's given to them anonymously. I'm not saying this is the case I'm just saying you don't know. It's silly to assume any claim is false based on the assumption of other claims is true.

August 06 2011 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sarah kent

There is no way he is an ACTUAL Buddhist and doesn't give any money to charity. Giving people jobs is not charity....especially when you need their jobs to make you more rich. People in other parts of the world will never have a chance at this money or his jobs. What a contradiction.
And yes, parenting is hard...but maybe you should watch where you stick your penis before making the choice to be a responsible grown man. Disgusting.
Not that this HAS to be an apple vs windows thing but I am getting a windows next. Bill Gates has done a lot of stuff for hundreds of charities.

May 22 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cmaxwell

Wow, the author might want to get his head out of Mr. Job's behind before he writes a follow-up. I'm sure starving kids in Africa or any other suitable charity will care more about their next meal on the table than whether we have an ipod/iphone/ipad to play games on.

I would also never screw one of my best friends out of money that he rightfully earned, even when I was young. That's just wrong...

May 02 2011 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sonyfan13

Minor correction: The Apple Lisa and the Apple III are two different products. The only thing they have in common: both weren't successful.

March 10 2011 at 3:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
robarens

Fact #6 and #8 are contradictory. Charity and Buddhism must always go together. Somebody is obviously lying.

March 09 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judy

One of the most interesting things I heard about Jobs was that almost the only subject he found interesting at Reed College was calligraphy. If it weren't for that, a lot of historic script would be lost, but Jobs integrated script into computers.

March 09 2011 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bansijeff

Thanks for telling Lisa's story. I knew her & her mother in late 70"s when her mother was a waitress at the New Varsity Theatre (& restaurant) in Palo Alto. Her mother had a really hard time making ends meet, & Jobs wouldn't pay his child support. It's my understanding that he continued to diss her until his wife put him straight. You forgot to mention that Jobs tried to make all the parents in Jordan Middle School buy Apple computers for their kids - by giving them a "deal" which wasn't a deal, and requiring everyone to have one.

March 09 2011 at 1:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jwpritchett44

Bill Gates is giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Rotary International to help wipe out polio worldwide. Rotary is very, very close to reaching that goal.

Gates has used his fortune to make the world a better place. Jobs has ... invented a video game?

I will never buy an Apple product. Hell, I may give up the fruit as well.

March 09 2011 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply