The Real Reason Steve Jobs Denied He Was Lisa Brennan’s Real Father

Steve Jobs may be one of the smartest, most aspirational business leaders in the modern world, but his home life was less than ideal. It’s true that he found enormous success with Apple and leading the technology revolution. But his personal life was an absolute mess. He even had a daughter who he claimed wasn’t his own, even though she clearly was.

What was it that made Steve Jobs claim he wasn’t the father of Lisa Brennan-Jobs? It’s complicated.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Steve Jobs didn’t have an easy childhood

Jobs was adopted at a young age but even that process didn’t go smoothly. Originally, he was placed with a “Catholic, well-educated couple” but they changed their minds and decided they wanted a daughter instead. When he was placed with another couple, neither of whom were educated, Jobs’ birth mother Joanne Scheible refused to sign the papers.

But being placed with this family turned out to be a blessing. Steve Jobs’ adoptive father built him a workbench in the garage where he could tinker with projects. And Steve Jobs loved his family even if they didn’t have fancy credentials. Later, Jobs referred to his birth parents as, “my sperm and egg bank” but maintained that his home life with the Jobs family was very special.

Things got serious with his high school sweetheart

Steve Jobs met Chrisann Brennan at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. The two dated on and off for five years before Brennan got pregnant in 1977. From the very first moments, Jobs denied that he was the father of the child. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Lisa Brennan was conceived the same year that Steve Jobs founded Apple. All of his efforts were focused on making his new company succeed and he didn’t have time for fatherhood.

Lisa Nicole Brennan was born on May 17, 1978, at a commune outside of Portland, Oregon. Her father Steve Jobs was not present for the birth.

Steve Jobs refused to believe the baby was his

Only Steve Jobs himself could say for sure why he refused to believe reality — that Lisa Brennan-Jobs was his real, biological daughter. His paternity denial led to a legal battle where a DNA test proved he was indeed the father, though he refuted paternity even after that, claiming that “28% of the male population of the United States could be the father.”

Despite his refusal to accept her, Jobs did name an early Apple computer Lisa. At the time, he claimed “Lisa” was simply an acronym for Local Integrated Systems Architecture. But later he admitted that it was “obviously” named after the daughter he refused to acknowledge.

Steve Jobs with Lisa
Steve Jobs with Lisa | Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

He had a difficult relationship with Lisa

Many years later, Steve Jobs relented to the idea that he could be Lisa’s father. But by that point, the damage to their relationship was so extreme that it took a long time to repair it.

“All I wanted was closeness and sweetness and for him to relieve me. To let me be the star, probably. To be like, ‘Well, how was your day?’ And to listen. And at such a young age, and so used to the spotlight, and to everybody fawning on him… he didn’t know how to be with me,” Brennan-Jobs said of their relationship.

Father and daughter repaired their relationship

Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Lisa Brennan-Jobs | Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Instead, Lisa and her father had plenty of turmoil, angst, and uncertainty. But things got better before he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2011. The two spent years repairing their relationship and eventually, though he had been stingy with sharing his fortune all along, Jobs left his daughter Lisa several million dollars as part of an inheritance.

Families are complicated, and no one is sure why Steve Jobs denied his daughter at first. But at least he made amends with her in the end. Lisa Brennan-Jobs published a memoir chronicling the long journey to forgiveness, Small Fry, in 2018.