He was put up for adoption, dated Joan Baez and discovered a sister

By Mike Fleeman
October 07, 2011 12:00 PM
Alexandra Wyman/Getty

As Steve Jobs tells the story, the phone call was made in the middle of the night.

An unwed couple had put their child up for adoption. They wanted their baby raised by college graduates, so they arranged for the child to go to a lawyer and his wife.

But at the last minute, the potential adoptive couple had a change of heart. They wanted a girl. So the birth parents went to the next names on the waiting list, and dialed the phone.

This time, the people on the other end of the line said yes.

That’s how Steve Jobs came to be adopted by working class Paul Jobs, a machinist, and wife Clara of San Francisco in the winter of 1955. The boy would grow up to become a technological visionary, immensely rich – worth an estimated $8.3 billion – powerful and admired.

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Along the way Jobs, who died at age 56 on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, had a compelling personal story. Much of it was rarely discussed by the intensely private man and his faithful employees and confidantes.

There was the birth father who still yearns to have known his son; the failure to complete college; the LSD that opened his mind; the romance with Joan Baez; the novelist sister he only later knew; the daughter he once denied; and the sudden diagnosis that forced him to ponder his life and his imminent death.

Some of this he spoke of in his famous Stanford commencement address in 2005 – and some of it he never spoke of at all.

But even his most difficult personal experiences shaped the way Jobs did business and the way he felt, summed up by words he read in a mid-’70s publication called The Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

“I have always wished that for myself,” he told the Stanford students, “and now as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”

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His biological father was a Syrian political science professor named Abdulfattah John Jandali and his biological mother was student Joanne Carole Shieble (later Simpson). They met at the University of Wisconsin but didn’t wed, Jandali said years later, because Joanne’s father forbade her from marrying a Syrian.

At first, when Joanne found out that the Jobs couple didn’t have college degrees – Paul Jobs had not even graduated from high school – she “refused to sign the final adoption papers,” Steve Jobs told the Stanford graduates.

“She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college,” Jobs said.

The new family moved down to Los Altos, Calif., and Jobs grew up close to his adoptive dad. Once asked by the New York Times what he would want to pass onto his children, Jobs said, “Just to try to be as good a father to them as my father was to me. I think about that every day.”

As an adult, Jobs eventually located his biological father. He also got another surprise: He had a sister, writer Mona Simpson.

The siblings would go on to build a relationship, and Jobs says he would call Simpson frequently. “My brother and I are very close,” she once told the New York Times. “I admire him enormously.”

And Jobs told the newspaper: “We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world.”

Not so for Jobs and Jandali, though. In August, after Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO due to his declining health, Jandali was unwilling to contact Jobs.

“Steve will have to do that, as the Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after his fortune,” he told the New York Post.

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But Jandali, now age 80 and an executive at a Reno casino, spoke of his regrets and his later hopes that Jobs would contact him.

“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t sadden me to have not been part of my son’s incredible journey,” he said. “What father wouldn’t think that? And I would think that even if he was not the head of a hugely successful company.”

This week, after news spread of Jobs’s death, Jandali was approached by the Reno Gazette Journal, though he told his local newspaper, “I really don’t have anything to say.”

True to his birth mother’s wishes, Jobs went to college – the pricey, private liberal arts Reed College in Portland, Ore. – and “all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent” on tuition, he said during his Stanford address.

Not seeing the value in his education, Jobs dropped out after six months but continued to audit classes, sleeping on the floors of friends’ dorms, redeeming 5-cent Coke bottle deposits for food money and getting Sunday meals at the Hare Krishna temple.

“It was pretty scary at the time,” he told the Stanford grads, “but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

What he learned then in a calligraphy class paid off a decade later when designing the Macintosh computer; it inspired the machine’s multiple typefaces, proportionately spaced fonts and beautiful typography.

For a time after dropping out, he plunged into the counter culture, once telling a reporter that taking LSD was one of the most important things he had done in his life, according to the New York Times.

He had a number of high-profile romances, including one with folk singer Joan Baez, who acknowledged him in her memoir And a Voice to Sing With, and Jobs reportedly went on a blind date with Diane Keaton.

Jobs’s later relationship with Chrisann Brennan produced a daughter, Lisa, although for years he denied paternity, even saying in court papers that he was “sterile and infertile, and as result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child.”

“In California, my mother had raised me mostly alone,” Lisa once told Vogue. “We didn’t have many things, but she is warm and we were happy.”

After Jobs eventually acknowledged that he was her father, she traveled alongside her father and lived with him for a few years.

“I saw another, more glamorous world,” she told the magazine. “The two sides didn’t mix, and I missed one when I had the other.”

Jobs would later marry Laurene Powell in 1991 and have three more children.

“I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of,” he said in a statement this year while promoting his authorized biography, “such as getting my girlfriend pregnant when I was 23 and the way I handled that.”

His final personal ordeal came one morning in 2004 when a scan showed a tumor on his pancreas.

“The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months,” Jobs told the Stanford grads in 2005.

In fact, he would live seven more years and see some of his biggest professional triumphs, including the introduction of the iPhone and the iPad.

“Your time is limited,” he told the grads, “so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”