The Truth About Elon Musk's Relationship With His Father

Dads can be — how shall we phrase this? — difficult. As sci-fi author Frank Herbert wrote in his classic novel Dune, "There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man — with human flesh." It's a rite of passage we all have to go through, but for some, the sins of the father are categorically unforgivable. Such is the case with the prolific inventor Elon Musk and his father, Errol. The relationship between the two has grown so sour that Showbiz Cheat Sheet compared it to "a storyline in a soap opera."

But you don't end up calling your dad "a terrible human being" because of the usual generational gripes. The feud is a bit more contentious than your usual daddy-never-hugged-me resentment. There is actually a whole slew of pretty good reasons for the Tesla CEO's rancorous relationship with his father, and Elon listed a few — and only hinted at others — in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone. He described his childhood as "miserable," claiming that his dad was capable of carrying out "evil" deeds. "He was such a terrible human being," Musk said. "You have no idea. My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil. He will plan evil." That actually sounds about right for the father of the eccentric billionaire whose innovations have changed life on Earth as we know it. Maybe this should be a soap opera. We'd watch that.

Elon would never amount to anything, said his father

During his childhood, Elon told Rolling Stone, his father was verbally abusive to him. Errol Musk had no faith in his son and told him so on the regular. When Elon moved to Canada with a head full of dreams, Errol believed his son would be back with his tail between his legs within a few months. Elon was never going to make it, his father told him. "He called me an idiot all the time," said Elon, adding that such hurtful words were only "the tip of the iceberg." That "idiot" went on to found the extremely successful companies Tesla and SpaceX and also invented the technologies that allow us to make online payments, phone calls, and restaurant searches.

For his part, Errol Musk told The Daily Mail that his son needed to "grow up" and stop referring to him as evil. "He needs to get over himself. I'm not going to hit back. I'm going to wait until he comes to his senses. He's having a tantrum, like a spoilt child. He can't have what he wants and now I am apparently an evil monster." He admitted that the time he shot and killed three home intruders (for which he was acquitted on grounds of self-defense) may have been the "evil" thing Elon was referring to, adding, "I'm not an evil person." But Elon did say "plan," so who knows what else Errol is capable of?

Musk Sr.'s murky behavior

Elon's difficult relationship with his father began long before the birth of Musk's half-brother Elliot in 2017, but the story of that child doesn't necessarily help Errol's case. According to The Sunday Times of London, Errol met the mother of a child that he would go on to say was "God's plan" when she was just four years old. She was the daughter of Errol's ex-wife Heide. That's right: Elon Musk's father had a child with his stepdaughter, a woman over 40 years younger than him. One could always argue that age is just a number, but with one's own stepdaughter? The evidence appears to be piling up in Elon's case against his father. Errol has claimed to love Elon and all his children, but the facts and his son's testimony beg to differ.

According to Harper's Bazaar, Errol conveniently doesn't see his stepdaughter as his stepdaughter. Although he met the girl as a little girl, he said she was raised "for long periods of time" outside of the home he shared with her mom. "We were lonely, lost people," he said. "One thing led to another – you can call it God's plan or nature's plan." Still, Errol reportedly needed DNA evidence of the divine intervention.

"Almost every crime you can possibly think of, he has done," Elon told Rolling Stone. And the more you learn about the things Errol Musk has done during his 74 years of life, the more you start to see what Elon is talking about. "Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done. It's so terrible, you can't believe it." No Elon, we're starting to believe it.

Did the Musks have an emerald mine?

Per his own account, Errol Musk made his fortune in an extreme case of happenstance, and it may have involved emeralds. Errol was on his way to England from Djibouti on a plane he planned to sell. His plans were stalled when he learned he would have to pay $2,000 unless he delayed travel. Fortunately, he met a group of Italians who were willing to pay £80,000 for the plane, with the cash readily available. But that wasn't all. 

Errol was immediately offered half of an emerald mine if he invested a portion of the money. He accepted the deal, subsequently making himself and his family very rich. It afforded them a luxurious lifestyle that involved yachts and ski trips. Errol hired a cutter in Johannesburg so that he could sell stones himself. He claimed that they were so rich, they had trouble closing their safe. According to a Business Insider article, a 16-year-old Elon took a few emeralds and sold them to Tiffany & Co in New York City without his father's permission. Elon received $800 and $1200 dollars for two gemstones, but the family returned to see the newly made jewelry selling for $24,000.

Musk, however, has repudiated his father's account (via the Evening Standard) and has said on Twitter that there never was an emerald mine. He also said this father has been financially dependent on his sons for the past two decades.

Elon downplays his father's investment

Never tell Elon Musk that his father gave him a leg up on his road to becoming a billionaire. In response to tweets that alleged Musk had a wealthy and privileged upbringing, Musk wrote on Twitter that he couldn't even afford two computers when he formed his first company. 

Elon founded Zip2 fresh out of college, according to CNBC. It was a software startup that provided online city guides for newspapers. He launched it in 1995 with $15,000. The company was granted an additional $200,000 from investors, and his father was among them, providing 10% of that amount as an angel investor, per USA Today. However, Elon argued his father's investment was dispensable. The credit his father receives for his Zip2 investment is a touchy subject for him, especially since he and his brother Kimbal received little help to support themselves at the beginning of their careers (via Rolling Stone).

During a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Elon said that he and his brother rented out a small office and slept on a couch because they couldn't afford a proper apartment. Zip2 was headquartered in Palo Alto, California, and they sold it in 1999 for $300 million to the now-defunct information technology company Compaq. Elon used the money from the sale to form another venture, an online financial services company that later became PayPal, per CNBC.

Elon regrets living with his father as a kid

Elon Musk was a lonely child growing up. He was raised by his two biological parents, Maye, a dietitian and model, and Errol an engineer, but a housekeeper did most of the oversight (per Rolling Stone). Even then, she wasn't parenting — Elon received most of his guidance from books. Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series were formative for him, and it's not difficult to see why: the books are about a scientist and inventor who seeks to colonize far-away planets in order to circumvent a human Dark Age. And when Elon wasn't reading, he was enthusiastically working on — and inadvertently placing himself in harm's way with — explosives and rockets.

His life drastically changed when his parents divorced. He and his siblings were to live with their mother, but Elon, feeling sorry for his father, decided to live with Errol. As an adult, it's a decision he now regrets. In his interview with Rolling Stone, Elon said he wasn't aware of the kind of person his father was. Although Errol was a gifted engineer, Elon believed he wasn't a good person and divulged that his father committed many crimes. He also said his father was both emotionally and physically abusive. Errol repudiated the claim and said he was a loving father, although he admitted that he had been called "ruthless" by his own mother.

Errol is 'worried' Elon will get bored

Errol Musk has seen his son Elon grow from an inquisitive, introverted prodigy to a billionaire inventor. So he probably knows more than most about how Elon operates. 

Errol describes Elon as a capricious thinker who gives up on a project once he grows bored of it, so he's afraid that Elon will soon grow bored of his current aspirations (per Forbes). Elon has accomplished more than most people of his age, and Errol believes there isn't much left for him to do. Elon would probably disagree, though, since one of his main goals is to travel to Mars and make the human race a multi-planetary species.

But it seems that Errol isn't always right. For example, Elon's Boring Company has failed to produce his famous Hyperloop for years. Elon first put forth the idea of a long-distance mega-speed transportation system in 2013, but they haven't made much progress besides some underground tunnels below Las Vegas, per Fortune. It's been nearly 10 years, but Elon hasn't given up. On April 25, the Boring Company announced it will start testing later this year (per Twitter). However, this came a day before his new venture in another realm began: his acquisition of Twitter. On April 26, Twitter's board agreed to sell the company to Elon, but nearly a month later, the sale hasn't been completed (per CNN). Time will tell if Elon will grow tired of either of these projects.

Elon brought his father to America, but he didn't stay

Elon Musk tried to work on his relationship with his father when he invited him to Malibu, California as an olive branch. He bought Errol Musk and his family a house, cars, and a boat. But Elon realized their relationship was beyond repair once he understood Errol was never going to change as a person, per Rolling Stone

However, Errol maintained a different version of the events, and in an interview with The Daily Mail, he said he moved back to South Africa after only two years because his wife, who was Afrikaans, wanted to be near her family. Errol believed that Elon interpreted his return to South Africa as a personal affront, and this contributed to their broken relationship.

Errol also said Elon is resentful about his feelings toward the United States. Errol refuses to settle in America and doesn't share his son's feelings about the country. He says Elon's anger towards him stems from their differing views about America, as Elon planned to make a home in the U.S. for his father. Errol and his wife struggled to return to South Africa since Elon had taken their passports, and they communicated clandestinely with the South African embassy in order to get back home. (Elon refutes the idea that he held his father hostage.) However, Errol said Elon's feelings eventually thawed, and even flew to South Africa once to throw him a birthday party.

Elon seems to have given up on a relationship with Errol

Elon was disappointed in his hopes that the father from his childhood would change. He reportedly tried various means of building a bridge, including "threats, rewards, intellectual arguments, [and] emotional arguments." In the end, Elon ended their relationship. An interview with Rolling Stone draws a comparison between Elon's precaution around cold, intelligent, emotionless artificial intelligence and Elon's relationship with his father, to whom he has ascribed similar attributes.

How Elon wanted his father to change isn't exactly clear. Elon described him as a bad person who would deliberately plan evil things. Elon was emotional when recalling his father's actions, and although he didn't elaborate on them, the memories reportedly made him tear up.

On his part, Errol Musk has taken offense at the "evil" label, and chalks up Elon's sore feelings to being a "spoilt child" (per The Daily Mail). Errol countered Elon's claims that he was unsupportive of his computer ambitions, recalling a time when he funded his son's trip to an groundbreaking IBM course where the first PC was being presented.