Pride, prejudice and parenting

(Note from author: This article was published in the Daily Times on 29 February 2012, following the death, on 5 October 2011, of Steve Jobs, founder of Apples Inc., who gave the world iMac, iPad and iPhone. It is perhaps the one article which is closest to my heart, but I had forgotten to post it on this blog.  Having just discovered this act of omission, I am posting it here now. Although seven years old, I think it is timeless, for it deals with issues that are confronted by millions across the world.)

It would require the passing of one for the other to fully realise the folly of both. As fate would have it, the older by far of the two and definitely the one with the greater feeling of remorse survives to contemplate what might have been – only if he had cast aside his pride and ego and just walked into Steve’s office or even his hospital room one day and given him a hug.

Parenting ought to be the hardest job in the world.  A parent might, his or her every waking moment, be thinking about the child’s well-being, but the child may yet think of the parent as not being good enough. How much harder it must be for an adoptive parent!

That Steve Jobs should be Steve Jobs and not Steve Jandali is another sad tale of pride and prejudice that have marred and barred many a relationship in this, our very imperfect world.

The premature death of the co-founder and genius of Apple Inc saddened all who knew him through his company’s many trail-blazing gadgets.  Many an obituary in countless languages has been devoted to his achievements.

Few men are so successful in life as Steve Jobs, fewer have such a global following and fewer still are as innovative as he was. Not many know about his private life, for few obituaries peer into the heart-rending story of the fraught human being behind the story of the astounding corporate success.

Steve Jobs should have been known to the world as Steve (or perhaps Saif) Jandali, for he was the son of a Syrian Muslim by the name of Abdul Fattah (John) Jandali.  His mother was a white American woman, Joanne Carole Schieble (later Simpson).  The two had met while studying at the same university in Wisconsin in the mid-fifties.

In an interview sometime ago, Jandali said that although he was in love with Joanne, her father was a tyrant and would not allow her to marry an Arab.  As a result, the pregnant Joanne moved to San Francisco to give birth to Steve without telling him or her parents.

“She did not want to bring shame onto the family and thought this was the best for everyone,” Jandali recalled.  For Steve was the product of a double offence, the child of an “illicit” liaison, that too between a Syrian Arab Muslim and a Christian of mixed Swiss and German background.  And this was back in 1955.  Joanne and Jandali later married (after the “tyrant” died) and had a daughter, Mona, whom Steve first met when he was 31.

In the meantime, however, Steve had been given up for adoption immediately at birth.  He grew up with his adoptive parents, Paul (who never finished high school) and Clara Jobs (who did not finish university). Joanne allowed the Jobs to adopt Steve only after signing papers assuring that they would send him to university.

Send Steve to university the Jobs did, but he never finished, though he achieved what hundreds, nay thousands, of doctorates can’t.  Steve later joked that the closest he ever came to graduation was when he made a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005!

By his own admission Dr Jandali, now 80, is trying his hardest to avoid a second retirement, perhaps because keeping busy prevents him from ruminating too much about the “son” he never had.  Having retired as a professor of political science, he now works as the CEO of a casino chain in Nevada.

In a rather sad ending to the tale, Jandali bemoaned that, despite (or perhaps because of) all of the years he had not spoken to his son, he would not be able to pick up the phone to call him. “This might sound strange, though, but I am not prepared, even if either of us was on our deathbeds, to pick up the phone to call him,” Jandali said.

“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 said.  “Now I just live in hope that, before it is too late, he will reach out to me, because even to have just one coffee with him just once would make me a very happy man.”  Alas, that was not to be.

The father sent his son a few emails on his birthdays, but the son never replied. When Jandali learned that Steve had been diagnosed with cancer, he sent him his personal medical history hoping this might assist with a cure.

Using words that the modest Steve would have used to describe his own role in the creation of the formidable Apple products that amazed the world, Jandali went on to say: “I just would like to get to know this amazing man I helped in a very small way to produce.”

It would require the passing of one for the other to fully realise the folly of both. As fate would have it, the older by far of the two and definitely the one with the greater feeling of remorse survives to contemplate what might have been – only if he had cast aside his “Syrian pride” and, might I add, male ego, and just walked into Steve’s office or even his hospital room one day and given him a hug.

Besides emails to his “son”, Jandali wrote this on the Facebook page of Steve’s daughter Lisa Nicole Brennan-Jobs:

“Hi Lisa.  I am John Jandali.  I am the ‘biological father’ of your Dad, Steve, and I guess that may give me the honour of being your ‘biological grandfather’.”   Now that Steve is dead, Jandali must be wishing he had done a bit more.

How the elder Jobs feel in this tale, we don’t know.  Their feeling of immense pride at the achievements of their adopted son is perhaps tinged with a little angst, for their gain was to be Jandali’s loss.

It is truly heart-breaking that racial and religious prejudice should have forced the separation of a child from his parents while male Arab pride would prevent a parent from reaching out to and reuniting with his “lost” and estranged son, the blood of his blood and the flesh of his flesh.

by Razi Azmi

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One Response to Pride, prejudice and parenting

  1. Fahd Mirza says:

    Very touching and very well written, as always.

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