US & World

Steve Jobs' Arab-American background and the story of his adoption

Apple's website turned into a tribute to Steve Jobs moments after his death at 56 was announced on Wednesday.
Apple's website turned into a tribute to Steve Jobs moments after his death at 56 was announced on Wednesday.

Abdul Fattah Jandali, a young Syrian Muslim immigrant in Wisconsin, never met his biological son Steve Jobs. When a baby was born to the 23-year-old Jandali, now known as John, and his 23-year-old German-American girlfriend Joanne Schieble in 1955, they felt there was no chance he'd be able to grow up with his biological parents.

Joanne, who belonged to a white, conservative Christian family, could not convince her parents to let her marry an Arab, a Muslim, according to Jandali. Jandali called her father "a tyrant" in a New York Post interview in August 2011. According to Jandali, she secreted off from Wisconsin to San Francisco to sort out the birth and adoption without letting either him or her parents know.

And so it was that a nameless Arab-American baby was adopted by an Armenian-American family. Clara Hagopian and her husband Paul Jobs had been married around seven years and had not been able to conceive.

Steve Paul Jobs, as they named him, grew up without ever knowing his biological father. It seems he had no interest in knowing him later in life. When, in August 2011, the London tabloid The Sun contacted Jandali, he publicly reached out to Steve saying, "I live in hope that before it is too late he will reach out to me. Even to have just one coffee with him just once would make me a very happy man.”

But Steve never replied. Less than two months later, he has passed away.

Jandali says it was his "Syrian pride" that kept him from reaching out to his famous son sooner. The 80-year-old Jandali lives in Reno, Nevada. He's the vice president of a casino and has yet to retire.

In a September 2011 interview with the Reno Gazette, Jandali said, "The Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after his fortune. I am not. I have my own money. What I don’t have is my son ... and that saddens me."

His biological father was no ordinary Syrian. According to an interview he gave to the Al Hayat newspaper in February 2011, he was born in French-mandated Syria in 1931 in the town of Homs to a "self-made millionaire" father with no university education who owned "several entire villages" and had a homemaker mother. He was one of five children, the only son of a family with four daughters.

He left Syria at 18 to study at the American university in Beirut, where he was "a pan-Arab activist," a "supporter of Arab unity and Arab independence" who organized with some of the most famous activists of his time. After university, he moved to the United States, though he regrets leaving his homeland.

"If I had the chance to go back in time, I wouldn’t leave Syria or Lebanon at all. I would stay in my home country my whole life. I don’t say that out of emotion but out of common sense,” he told Al Hayat. “Of course I miss the social life and wonderful food [in Syria], but the most important thing is the outstanding cultural attributes which in general you don’t find in the West,” says the non-practicing Muslim, who nonetheless “believe[s] in Islam in doctrine and culture.”

Would the Steve Jobs of Apple Computers be possible outside America?

The estrangement of a father and son is made even more tragic by the fact that not only did each know of the other, but they shared more than a father-son biological connection. Jandali and Schieble eventually did marry, just 10 months after she gave their baby boy away to adoption, and just a few months after Joanne's father died.

And they had another child — a daughter with whom Steve eventually had a relationship. Mona Jandali, now Simpson, is a world renowned author who was, in her own words, "very close" to her brother Steve once they established a relationship as adults.

According to Jandali, he had no idea until just a few years ago that the baby his then-girlfriend secretly gave birth to in San Francisco was the man the world knew as Steve Jobs. But Steve must have known for decades, through his relationship with Mona.

In the August New York Post interview, Jandali tried to let his son know that he didn’t know of Joanne’s San Francisco plans and was saddened when he learned of it. "I honestly do not know to this day if Steve is aware of the fact that had it been my choice, I would have loved to have kept him," he said.

And unless Jobs’s upcoming November authorized biography addresses the issue, Jandali may never know. Instead, with news of Jobs's death, Jandali has refused any further interviews about his long lost son.