The life and times of Steve Jobs’ Syrian father
There’s a popular saying about three apples that have changed the world: Adam’s apple, Isaac Newton’s apple and Steve Jobs “Apple”. As successful as the founder of Apple was, Jobs passed away Thursday without ever having met his real father, despite their living in the same country.
After Jobs passed away, Al-Arabiya.net tried to contact his biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali. The 80-year-old Syrian immigrant has been living in the United States for a long time now and is the Vice Chairman of the Boomtown Casino and Hotel in Reno, Nevada.
Although we called the hotel in the evening when casinos are at their busiest, the operator repeated the same answer over and over again: “Mr. Jandali only works in the morning, he rarely comes at night.”
There’s little about Jandali in the American press because he rarely spoke about being Jobs’ biological father.
Jobs too appeared keen to keep the identities of his father and sister Mona secret.
Mona Simpson is a successful American novelist who only met Jobs when he was 27 year old. They did, however, keep in touch.
From Beirut to America
In an interview with Fortune magazine, Jandali shared his family’s story. He was born in 1931 in Homs, Syria to a wealthy landowner. At 18, Jandali left Syria to Beirut to continue his studies at the American University of Beirut. Jandali described Beirut as the city “where I spent the best days of my life”.
In the 2007 issue of “Campus gate”, a magazine published by the American University of Beirut, Jandali featured as one of the Arab nationalism activists in Beirut who quickly rose to prominence and was appointed as the director of “Al Urwa Al Wuthka” journal (The trustworthy Guide), a journal that embraced the symbols of the Arab nationalist movement like George Habash, Constantin Zureiq, Shafik al-Hout and many others.
In the same issue, Dr.Yussef Chebel wrote a story on the “Urwa Al Wuthka Association”; it was founded in 1918 and presided over by Jandali once but dissolved in 1954 when Beirut was teeming with protests demanding the resignation of then Lebanese president Bechara El Khoury. Khoury was uncompromising on renewing his mandate against the dispositions of the Lebanese constitution but he finally resigned and became the first Arab president to step down under the pressure of demonstrations and protests in the streets and squares.
If it wasn’t for those protests in Beirut, Jandali would have probably stayed in Lebanon, married and had children there.
However, the political situation in Beirut pushed Jandali to travel to the U.S. in 1954, where he lived with one of his relatives, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Najm Eddin al-Rifai in New York. Jandali spent a year studying at Colombia University and then at Wisconsin University where he received a scholarship that enabled him to obtain a master's and a Ph.D. in Economics and political sciences.
When he was studying in Wisconsin, Jandali dated a German-Swiss woman, Joanne Carol Schieble. Joanne got pregnant but her conservative father refused to allow her to marry Jandali, who left Joanne a few days before the baby boy’s arrival in 1956. He would never see his son.
Joanne placed her newborn child for adoption in San Francisco and soon enough, a couple, Paul and Clara Jobs, adopted the boy. The baby too disappeared for good and his biological mother lost track of him after he and his family moved many times.
A few months after the adoption, Jandali reappeared in Joanne’s life and they married; a year later they had a girl they named Mona. Soon thereafter, he began to face financial problems and was pushed to travel to Syria in the hope that he could get a job in the diplomatic corps, having been influenced by his ambassadorial relative.
The university professor becomes a restaurant owner
Jandali was unable to fulfill his diplomatic dream so he worked as a director in an oil refinery in Homs for a year. During this time, he separated from his wife and then they divorced.
In 1962, Jandali returned to the U.S. but did not contact Joanne, who had remarried an American. He would learn of this a few years later when he reconnected with her.
Jandalai began working as an assistant professor at Michigan University and later Nevada University.
Time passed and Jandali was moving from one job to another: he bought a restaurant and then worked as a director in prominent companies and institutions in Las Vegas before returning to the restaurant industry where he opened two restaurants in Reno before joining Boomtown Casino and Hotel. He got promoted over the years and was made vice chairman of the company at the age of 80, although he looks 10 years younger in photos.
In an interview with the British Observer earlier this year, Jandali said he had not visited Syria and Lebanon in the past 35 years. He said he was a non-practicing Muslim who did not perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, “but I believe in Islam as a doctrine and culture. I also believe in family and advise Arab youth who come to the States to study, not to stay long because the Arab world is full of opportunities, especially Gulf countries.”
Father and son
Jandali once mentioned his son Jobs in an interview to “The Las Vegas Sun” in March 2010. He said that he had left his daughter when she was five “because her mother divorced me when I moved to Syria. I tried to reach her 10 years later, but [it was] in vain. She changed her home address and 10 years ago I managed to contact her and now we meet three times every year.”
Mona married in 1993 and currently lives with her husband, the American producer and TV writer Richard Bill. She has two children and has written five novels including “The Lost Father” where she relates her search for her biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali.
Jobs, meanwhile, got married in 1991 to Lauren Powell with whom he has three children. However, like his father, he too had an estranged relationship with his first child, a daughter, born out of wedlock with his high school girlfriend in 1978. Although he first denied fathering Lisa Brennan-Jobs, he ultimately acknowledged her; as one of his heirs she is likely to inherit the millions of dollars he left behind.