On the death of Steve Jobs

Yesterday included a funny moment for me. The iPhone 4S was announced. I couldn’t really have cared a whole lot less than I did. I cared. I followed the event between cat naps on my iPhone 4, checking Twitter and various liveblogs. But this Apple product announcement - an event that previously beat out most things in my life, like work, friends, doctor’s appointments, what have you for my mid-day attention - came on a day that had more meaning and impact on my life in the first four hours than most do in all 24. It was the day my daughter was born.

Then today, Steve Jobs passed away. I found out from the TV in our hospital room, while eating dinner. I went first - instinctively - to my iPhone for more information. I’m writing this on my iPad, with my MacBook pro just feet away, as well as my wife’s iPhone. I’m a fanboy, for sure.

This news hits me harder than it might have hit even most fanboys, though. For a reason I’m still just beginning to understand.

When Steve stepped down, just weeks ago, it hit me really hard. I couldn’t figure out what it affected me so. My wife offered, “Could it be that you kind of see him as a father figure?”

I laughed. I didn’t want it to be true. I really wrestle with the fanboy thing. I don’t like fanboys. I try as hard as I can to lead an examined life.

Worse, something about it seemed… pathetic. Trying to claim someone you’ve never met as your father seemed like a desperate, sad thing to me.

But I took it to heart. My wife is quite wise, and dismissing something like this would have been foolish of me. I considered it, deeply. She was right.

I grew up without a father. My father was physically and emotionally abusive, and was out of the house completely before I was 2 - my son’s current age. I grew up with just Mom. The idea of a father is a construct entirely imaginative to me. I pieced together bits of what I saw in friend’s houses, though I don’t remember seeing a lot of dads when I was young. Statistically, half of them might have not had fathers, either.

My idea of a father was based mostly on books, television and movies.

What is a father? For a man, I think one of the chief roles his father plays is that of template. “I want to be like my dad.” “What would my dad do if he were faced with this?” “What would dad think of this?” “Would dad be proud of me?”

With all regards to my career, that person for me was - no, IS - Steve Jobs. He’s my example. He’s the one I look to for answers.

He was not a perfect man, in his personal or professional lives. I can’t really speak intelligently about his personal life, but here is why he will always be one of the men that I call “father.” If I am ever a good leader, it will be due in at least part to this lesson.

Steve was a great leader because he was a great decision-maker, a great judge of character and a great listener. You’ll read countless accounts of people’s one-on-one experiences with him over the next few months. You’ll hear time and again that when people came to him with a good idea, he listened. He didn’t just try to convince everyone around him of his own ideas. He could do that, in part, because he surrounded himself with talented people that he trusted to be smarter than him. He trusted that he had hired people of integrity, that would only defend ideas because they had merit, not because they were their own, and he did the same. And when the time came to make a decision, he didn’t shy away from responsibility by putting things to a vote or let things be compromised by committees. He picked a direction and stood his ground, and expected everyone around him to do the same.

He is still so misunderstood. Watching the talking heads try to explain why he was important was painful. He didn’t invent much, really. Don’t get me wrong, he invented plenty. His name is on more patents than any other current tech CEO. But that was really just icing, I think. And he didn’t make the 1984 commercial or the “Think Different” commercial. I’m sure he had a heavy hand in both, but advertising agencies made those, just the same way they have made commercials for everyone else.

He didn’t invent Pixar. He bought it. He didn’t invent the mouse or the GUI. He bought them.

He wasn’t a magician.

He was a visionary. He was a leader. He simply didn’t have a stomach for “good enough.”

It will take years, I bet, for us to figure out how this loss has changed us, and how his life has changed us. The way Apple has humanized computers brought them out of the basement laboratories and into our pockets. All of our pockets, too, not just hobbyists. Grandma has an iPhone. And she knows how to use it. Our infant children can use them. And if anyone can be called the father of the Internet, it’s Tim Berners-Lee, who did his work on a NeXT computer (the company Steve started after he was ousted from Apple, who was later bought by Apple and whose operating system became OS X - the operating system that powers almost all Apple products today from the Mac to the iPhone). So many TV shows and movies have been made on Macs, from video-editing to screenplay-writing. So many musicians and graphic artists and makers of all kinds prefer Macs.

Goodbye, Steve. Thank you. The world is a very different place because of you. I hope I grow up to be a leader like you some day.

My own father passed away in 2006. I grieved that loss in a confused, hollow way, not knowing the man who fled the responsibilities of husband and father. I grieve it all the more when I experience the limitless joy of hearing my two-year-old say, “Hi, Daddy.” We both missed out on a lot, Dad. I grieve for us both.