NEW YORK—It may sound like a typical Jerry Springer case of dubious paternity, but I’m certain the man with a reported net worth of $500 million is not my father, and it’s time to set the record straight.
Dear Michael Steinhardt,
I am not your daughter, but I embarked on a journey into your world 21 years ago when I was born…to your namesake.
For the first 16 years, I didn’t notice anything strange. But when I began an internship at a local paper my junior year of high school, a coworker asked me if I was related to Michael Steinhardt. Innocently, I confirmed his suspicions: “Not only am I related to Michael Steinhardt, but he’s my dad!” I replied, excited and impressed that my own father’s name had acquired a positive and prestigious reputation in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
“The Michael Steinhardt?” the coworker asked.
“Yes, the Michael Steinhardt,” I said.
By “the,” my colleague meant you, the world-famous millionaire hedge fund manager turned philanthropist. By “the,” I meant the Manhattan-born, Orioles loving workers’ compensation lawyer Michael Steinhardt, a.k.a. Dad. I learned quickly: Michael Steinhardt is my father, but if you mean the rich and famous Michael Steinhardt, then no—we’re not related.
Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Your footprints are heavily embedded in all of the paths I have walked in recent years. The closer I get to reality, the more I must explain and even insist that you’re not my dad.
On my first trip to look at colleges I came across a garden you donated to the University of Pennsylvania (I have since learned that the new Hillel there also bears your name). I saw a graduate school named after you at NYU. At Harvard, I have yet to encounter your name on a building, scholarship or endowed professorship—though it’s probably around somewhere.
And so, in my early days at Harvard, I thought I had escaped from your shadow—an idea which lasted about two years until my first Crimson interview with University President Lawrence H. Summers. You drop the H-bomb, everyone wants to know your SAT scores. You drop the S-bomb, everyone—including Harvard’s own president—wants to know if Michael Steinhardt is your father.
Even my peers look at me differently because of you. One Friday night last year, as I ate my noodle kugel at Hillel, I noticed two guys pointing at me and whispering. Self-conscious and confused, I decided to approach them. “You’re Jeni Steinhardt, right?” one of them asked. I nodded.
“Your father sent me to Israel for free!” he proclaimed. I quickly explained that my father didn’t even send me to Israel for free, but I could tell he and his friend just thought I was being modest.
This summer I have dared to enter your true territory: Wall Street. On the Street, everyone knows about the Michael Steinhardt. And everyone thinks I’m your daughter or some lucky relative with the world’s best connection. One trader, disappointed to hear that I can’t take him on a tour of your house, told me last week that you’ve created an entire wild animal exhibit inside. I told him that the other Michael Steinhardt has a diabetic Maltese named Sami, and that she only likes my mom.
As the Michael Steinhardt quest accelerates—I am encountering your fans and friends at an increasing pace as the years progress—I find myself wondering if our paths might one day cross. Sometimes at work everyone takes a break to watch the random police/armed robber car chases on Fox News. My mind drifts and I start to plan our in-person encounter.
Though I haven’t worked out most of the details, I do know that I would like my dad to come along. He’s no philanthropist (his money is tied up in his children’s college and law school loans) but, like you, he does know how to find money (in the form of Social Security disability awards for his clients). He hasn’t seen an average annual return of 24 percent on any investments (he keeps asking me what a hedge fund is), but he does hold the title of world’s nicest guy (I’m sure you two would get along).
I’ll be in New York all summer and could meet at your earliest convenience. I know that you’re a very busy man, but when people start to ask if I’m your daughter, you want to be able to say you know me, right?
Very truly yours (but not by blood),
Jenifer L. Steinhardt
The Jenifer L. Steinhardt ’05, an economics concentrator in Adams House, is the associate managing editor of The Crimson. She is searching for money, fulfillment and long-lost family on Wall Street this summer. She can’t wait for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.”