Born in South Africa, Musk is the offspring of Maye, a Canadian nutritionist and model, and Errol, a South African engineer. His parents, however, rarely did much parenting, instead leaving basic child-rearing to a housekeeper. The man himself says that books — stacks and stacks of them — were his constant companions as a child [source: Strauss].
After his parents divorced in 1980, his brother and sister chose to remain with his mother, while Musk stayed with his father. Later, he realized that his dad was a "terrible human being," one with a reputation for ruthlessness. Errol Musk had shot three intruders dead in self-defense — and was acquitted of manslaughter. He also fathered a child with his own step-daughter. In spite of his personal shortcomings, Elon's father was also a good engineer, one who passed along many fundamental lessons on electricity, construction and science to his young son [sources: Chung, Crilly].
At the age of 12, Musk programmed his own computer game, called Blastar, which he sold to a computer magazine for a few hundred dollars. That set the tone for much of his future professional life [source: Mack].
Until his teens, the boy's small size and introverted nature made him a target for bullying; once he was beaten so badly he was rendered unconscious. The bullying only stopped when he learned to fight back. It's no wonder, then, that he fled South Africa (in part to dodge mandatory military service in a country split by apartheid) for university in Canada at 17. And that's when he began to blossom in incredible ways [source: Strauss].