Today’s broadcast, “Changing the World Through Adoption,” features a conversation with my friend, Focus colleague and co-writer, Paul Batura. The discussion is based on his latest book, Chosen for Greatness: How Adoption Changes the World.
Paul serves as our vice-president of communications. He’s currently in his 20th year at the ministry.
Although Paul often works behind the scenes, you might remember him from a Focus program several years ago where he discussed his popular book, “Good Day! The Paul Harvey Story.” Paul has a passion and gift for not only telling the stories of interesting people, but also identifying lessons from their lives that can ultimately help enrich ours.
I’d encourage you to listen to today’s program, “Changing the World Through Adoption.” It’s available on your local radio station, online, or on our free phone app.
But in the meantime, I’d like to invite you to read below chapter one of this fascinating new book. If you’ve adopted or know someone who has – or just like interesting stories – you’re going to enjoy this one.
In the early light of October 5, 2011, at his home in Palo Alto, California, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs quietly studied the faces of the loved ones surrounding his bed. He was fading in and out of consciousness. Closest to him was his wife of twenty years, Laurene. She was monitoring the pace and frequency of his breathing. He seemed to be climbing, as if ascending a steep mountain trail. Their three children, Reed, Erin and Eve, wrung the perimeter of the room keeping vigil. Steve’s sisters, Patty Jobs and Mona Simpson, were also present.
The intensely private entrepreneurial tech giant who had once declared his goal “to change the world” was at the end of a long and painful illness. Originally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, Jobs had suffered and bravely managed a myriad of health-related complications over the course of seven years. He took three official leaves of absence, including one for a liver transplant in 2009, before resigning as CEO in August of 2011. Investors and admirers tracked and followed his every move. Paparazzi camped outside his home and in the bushes of medical office parking lots, hoping to catch a snapshot of the ailing Silicon Valley titan.
But as summer turned to fall, it became clear that Steve Jobs was dying. There would be no more treatments or experimental medications. He was homebound, too frail and weak to venture outside the British Country style house on Waverley Street. Knowing the curtain was falling, a small number of Apple executives, all from his inner circle, many of whom were Christian, began making regular trips to the Jobs’ residence. Naturally, business was always discussed during these meetings. According to those present, Steve would light up whenever a new project or company challenge was put forth for debate. But those closest to the Apple guru, speaking on condition of anonymity, would later say that during these final visits, Steve was more interested in talking about religion and the afterlife than software and technology. He was unsettled. He had questions. Big ones. Questions such as, “What really happens when we die?”; “Where do we go?”; or “What’s it like there?” became popular topics of conversation.
Although Jobs spent his early years attending a local Lutheran church with his parents and sister, he had grown frustrated as a teenager with traditional Christianity. Specifically, he struggled with the seeming contradiction of how an all-loving God could allow the suffering and starvation of innocent people, especially children. The standard answers from his pastor and parents no longer satisfied him.
“The juice goes out of Christianity,” he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, “when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus sees it.” And so, as a young man, Jobs began exploring and embracing the world of Zen Buddhism. He intently studied its tenets. Shortly after dropping out of Reed College in Oregon, Jobs even traveled to India where he considered joining a Zen monastery. He regularly meditated and voraciously read religious texts. He said he wanted to experience spiritual highs, not engage in dry doctrinal debates of Christianity. Returning three years later with a shaved head and wearing traditional Indian garb, he began practicing a modified version of the ancient faith. In the office, Jobs would often wear jeans without shoes. According to Steve, Buddhism seemed to complement his work ethic and worldview. He appreciated its simplicity. But now he was at the end of his life. And the specificity, urgency and poignancy of his questions hinted Steve Jobs was still searching for what he had never seen or experienced since childhood: peace and assurance.
Steve Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on February 24, 1955, to Joanne Carole Schieble, a University of Wisconsin graduate student. Miss Schieble and Steve’s biological father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, had met at the university where Jandali was pursuing a Ph.D. in political science and served as Joanne’s teaching assistant. Coming from a German Catholic farming family, Schieble’s parents weren’t supportive of the young couple’s relationship. According to press reports, Joanne’s father threatened to withhold ongoing financial assistance if their daughter didn’t break up with the Muslim graduate student. Miss Schieble’s father was dying, and she didn’t want to upset the family. Furthermore, the young 22 year-old decided that neither she nor Jandali had the financial means to raise a baby.
And so, Joanne Schieble decided to make an adoption plan for her unborn son.
In early 1955, just months before she was expected to give birth, Joanne Schieble left Wisconsin and moved to San Francisco to be cared for by an obstetrician who quietly ministered to unwed mothers. This doctor would deliver the baby and then work with the birthmother to find suitable adoptive parents. At the time, as was customary, all the adoptions arranged by the doctor were “closed” – meaning that neither party knew or would ever know one another. In selecting an adoptive family, Joanne had one main requirement. She wanted the family to be college-educated. A couple was quickly identified. They were Catholic, the husband was a lawyer and the family was wealthy. However, the couple changed their mind after Steve was born. They wanted a girl. It was time to find a new adoptive couple – and quickly.
A Dream Come True
Paul and Clara Jobs were married in 1946, shortly after Paul was discharged from the Coast Guard after having served in World War II. Clara had been previously married but widowed after her first husband was killed in action during the war. Paul was an engine mechanic who loved to tinker with cars. Clara worked as a bookkeeper.
They didn’t have a lot of money, but they were in love and they were happy. Mutually supportive of one another, they longed to welcome a baby into their home. An ectopic pregnancy came as a crushing blow to the young couple, and for nine long years they tried unsuccessfully to start a family. Finally, they were referred to the aforementioned Bay Area doctor who was caring for unwed mothers. They declared their desire to adopt. It didn’t matter to them if it were a girl or a boy.
At first glance, Paul and Clara Jobs were a poor match for Joanne Schieble’s baby boy. Besides lacking the one main requirement of a college education, Paul’s life was lacking any notable accomplishment. Having run into minor trouble during his military tenure, he never rose above the lowest rank of Seaman. After marrying, the six-foot-tall tattooed mechanic, short on money, moved him and his wife back to Wisconsin to live with Clara’s parents. After several years they would relocate to Indiana where Paul worked a blue-collar job as a machinist for International Harvester. He would later quit and begin selling used cars. Clara loved San Francisco, though, and convinced her husband to relocate again. He found a job there as a “repo-man” – retrieving cars from customers unable to make their promised monthly payments. To supplement his income, Paul bought, restored and sold old cars. The Jobs’ garage was always packed with tools and full of potential.
The call from the San Francisco doctor nearly sent the couple into orbit. Due to the extenuating circumstances of the initial failed placement, Paul and Clara had no warning and little time to react. They were ecstatic, though, and gleefully accepted. However, when Joanne found out that neither Paul nor Clara had a college education, she was furious and refused to sign the relinquishment papers. Days turned to weeks. Finally, after receiving assurance through the doctor that the Jobs’ would send Steve to college, Joanne agreed to finalize the placement.
Like Father, Like Son
The Jobs settled into a rhythm as a family of three. When Steve turned two, they adopted again, this time a newborn girl named Patty. Paul continued his work repossessing cars. When Steve turned five, the Jobs purchased a single-story ranch house at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos. It was inside the garage of that simple suburban home that Steve Jobs began to sow the seeds of his future destiny. Steve’s father marked off a portion of his workbench for his young son. He shared his love of cars with him and encouraged him to tinker and explore.
“I wasn’t that into fixing cars,” Steve would later say, “But I was eager to hang out with my dad.”
It was an impressionable time. “I thought my dad’s sense of design was pretty good,” Jobs said. “He knew how to build anything. If we needed a cabinet, he would build it. When we built our fence, he gave me a hammer so I could work with him. He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.” Although Steve didn’t embrace his father’s love of automobile mechanics, his father first introduced him to electronics given the critical role they played in the car. “He showed me the rudiments of electronics, and I got very interested in that. Every weekend, there’d be a junkyard trip. We’d be looking for a generator, a carburetor, all sorts of components.”
Paul and Clara Jobs worked tirelessly to feed the interests of their children, especially Steve’s. Clara taught him how to read before he even started kindergarten. The location of the Jobs’ home placed the youngster squarely in the middle of the exploding tech boom. “Most of the dads in the neighborhood did really neat stuff, like photovoltaics and batteries and radar,” Jobs remembered. One of those fathers, Larry Lang, who lived just seven houses down, was an engineer for Hewlett Packard (HP). “He would bring me stuff to play with,” said Jobs. A fourth grade teacher, Imogene Hill, gave Steve a Heathkit, a tool that fed his love of electronics. He would later call her “one of the saints in my life.”
Conversations around the table inevitably turned technical, especially when Steve’s father took a new job with Spectra-Physics, a company that engineered lasers. A young Steve was impressed with father’s new profession. “Lasers require precision alignment,” he said. “The really sophisticated ones, for airborne applications or medical, had very precise features. It made you realize you could build and understand anything. Once you built a couple of radios, you’d see a TV in the catalogue and say, ‘I can build that as well,’ even if you didn’t. I was very lucky, because when I was a kid both my dad and the Heathkits made me believe I could build anything.”
The Jobs’ decision to buy in the Mountain View section of Los Altos also wound up exposing Steve to the architecture of Joseph Eichler, a real estate developer whose company built more than eleven thousand homes in California. Eichler’s homes were designed for the average American. “Eichler did a great thing,” Jobs told his biographer. “His houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower income people. They had awesome little features like radiant heating in the floors. You put carpet on them and we had nice toasty floors. I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much. It was the original vision of Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.”
Paul Jobs also encouraged his son to accepted Larry Lang’s invitation to join the Hewlett-Packard Explorers Club, a group of students who met weekly in the company cafeteria. Steve recalled the experience:
They would get an engineer from one of the labs to come talk about what he was working on. My dad would drive me there. I was in heaven. I saw my first desktop computer there … It was huge, maybe forty pounds, but it was a beauty of a thing. I fell in love with it.
When a group project required parts Steve didn’t have, he decided, on his own, to call Bill Hewlett, the CEO of HP. He simply looked up his number in the phone book. They had a twenty-minute conversation. Steve not only received the parts he was looking for but Bill wound up offering him a summer internship. He eagerly accepted.
“My Parents Made Me Feel Special”
In the opening pages of his biography, Steve Jobs reflected candidly on his adoption. He always knew he was adopted. “My parents were very open with me about that,” he told Walter Isaacson. But he recalls a chilling moment when he was maybe six or seven years of age. He told the girl across the street that he was adopted, to which she replied, “So does that mean your real parents didn’t want you?”
“Lightning bolts went off in my head,” he said. “I remember running into the house, crying. And my parents said, ‘No, you have to understand.’ They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said, ‘We specifically picked you out.’ Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me. And they put an emphasis on every word in that sentence.”
Responding to critics who suggest Jobs’ career and personal behavior bore the mark of a man still struggling with abandonment, Steve adamantly disagreed. “Knowing I was adopted may have made me feel more independent, but I have never felt abandoned. I’ve always felt special. My parents made me feel special.” And to those who inadvertently or ignorantly suggested his adoptive mom and dad weren’t his “real” parents, Steve was quick to clarify: “They were my parents. 1000%.”
The Rest of the Story
Steve Jobs’ biological parents, Joanne Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, married shortly after Steve’s adoption. They divorced in 1962. The marriage would result in the birth of another child, a daughter, the best-selling novelist Mona Simpson. It would take twenty years before Steve and Mona eventually met, but they quickly forged a powerful bond. Jobs declined an invitation to meet his biological father but warmly embraced the opportunity to meet his biological mother.
“I wanted to meet [her] mostly to see if she was okay and to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion,” he said. “She was 23 and she went through a lot to have me.”
Steve’s reluctance to meet Mr. Jandali was borne out of concern the restaurateur would blackmail him or make an appeal for money. Ironically, the restaurant Jandali operated was often frequented by Silicon Valley executives, including Steve Jobs. At the time, though, Jandali was not aware who his first born son was or what had come of him.
Paul and Clara Jobs were married for just over forty years. Clara passed away in 1986. Paul died in 1993.
Every adoption is the culmination of countless independent decisions that the Lord seamlessly works together. Some might scoff at the suggestion that Steve Jobs accomplished what he did because he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, but the evidence suggests otherwise: That Joanne Schieble chose not to have an abortion … that the young Wisconsin woman was referred to a California doctor who just happened to be the same doctor the Jobs petitioned … that the first couple matched declined because they wanted a girl not a boy … that Joanne agreed to place with the Jobs despite their lack of college education … that Paul and Clara both lived and worked where they did, surrounded by the sultans of science and engineering … and that they nurtured, navigated and loved an exceptionally gifted but challenging boy from childhood to the heights of professional success.
Adoption didn’t necessarily make Steve Jobs successful, but it undoubtedly shaped the man who co-founded the company that has changed the way we compute and communicate.
“Once, he told me,” said his sister Mona Simpson, “if he’d grown up differently, he might have become a mathematician.”
In Search of Wonder
Spiritually speaking, it’s impossible to know what goes on inside a man’s heart. History is replete with dramatic deathbed conversions. The Roman emperor Constantine the Great asked to be baptized moments before he died. So did the writer Oscar Wilde. John Wayne struggled from his hospital bed, slipped to his knees and turned the hours that were left of his life over to Jesus. According to those present in Palo Alto, there was no such moment or declaration in Steve Jobs’ final days. However, his final words, spoken haltingly but clearly, are provocative.
Steve’s sister, Mona Simpson, revealed at his funeral that after making eye contact with everyone in the room, Jobs turned and gazed beyond them, as if looking at a scene unfolding over their shoulders. “Oh wow!” he said. “Oh, wow! Oh, wow!”
What did he see? It’s impossible to know. But it’s fitting that the man whose life’s work revolved around the pursuit of rethinking man’s approach to the wonder of technology is the same man whose last words were wrapped in the spirit of wonder itself.
Please consider picking up a copy of “Chosen for Greatness: How Adoption Changes the World” at the Focus on the Family store.
Graciela Reina says
-Loved the story, and the wow moment🔆