From one Syrian immigrant: American genius
Friday, February 26, 2016
By most accounts, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali was not a remarkable parent. A Syrian immigrant whose first wife was Joanne Schieble, an American, Jandali was remarkable in one aspect of fatherhood: He is the biological father of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, as well as acclaimed writer Mona Simpson.
Jandali was the ninth child of a well-to-do family in Homs, Syria. According to Jobs’ official biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jandali left Syria in the early 1950s to attend the American University in Beirut and ultimately, immigrated to the U.S. to pursue a degree at the University of Wisconsin. Since his birth in 1931, Jandali’s birth city has been torn apart by the country’s ongoing civil strife.
Jandali met Schieble while he was working as a teaching assistant at Wisconsin. The couple’s first child, Jobs, was put up for adoption in 1955, because Schieble’s dying father, according to Isaacson, “threatened to disown her if she wed [Jandali].” The couple did ultimately, marry and had a second child together, Simpson.
Jandali and Schieble would divorce when Simpson was very young. Jandali would marry three more times. Jobs was raised in a modest home by a middle-class, California family. Simpson, meanwhile, grew up with her mother in Wisconsin.
Simpson would go on to write six novels and several short stories, garnering praise and prizes, such as the Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She holds professorships at UCLA and Bard College. Jobs, of course, became Steve Jobs.
Neither Jobs nor Simpson knew of each other’s existence until Jobs tracked down his biological family – when he was 27. The two siblings developed a close relationship.
Jobs was reportedly “friendly” with his mother but never sought out Jandali. Simpson, on the other hand, found Jandali working in the restaurant business in Nevada. Where she learned, according to Isaacson, that Jandali had managed a restaurant frequented by Jobs, while neither knew who the other was.
Jandali, in an interview before Jobs’ 2011 death, expressed some regret about not knowing the children he had with Schieble better. "I don’t have a close relationship with him. I send him a message on his birthday, but neither of us has made overtures to come closer to the other…. Steve is my biological son, but I didn’t bring him up, and he has a family that adopted him. So if it’s said that I’m the ‘father of invention’, then that’s because my biological son is a genius and my daughter a brilliant writer.”
The combination of Schieble’s and Jandali’s genes were, indeed quite powerful. And without an immigration policy allowing students and immigrants – from Syria or any other country -- to study and work in the United States, geniuses like Simpson and Jobs would not have been born.