It's not often that someone in your lifetime gets labeled a genius, so can you blame us for wanting to know more?
Less than a week after the death of Steve Jobs, details about his fiercely guarded private life are being shared around the globe on devices he created. The latest: an interview in the Wall Street Journal with Abdulfattah "John" Jandali, the Apple CEO's biological father, who reveals that he made a few feeble (and rebuffed) email attempts late in life to reach out to his famous offspring.
This isn't the first time Jandali has spoken with the media, but his remarks this week are re-capturing the attention of both sides in the nature vs. nurture debate. Even though he had no part in raising them, Jandali has birthright claim to two children – Jobs and a sister, award-winning novelist Mona Simpson – who are both considered brilliant.
Described by former colleagues and co-workers as "very smart" and "creative," Jandali has been a political science professor, a director of an oil refinery and a restaurant owner. The 80-year-old Syrian immigrant is now a casino manager in Reno, Nev. More than five decades ago, he met Jobs' biological mother, Joanne Schieble Simpson, when both were University of Wisconsin grad students.
After she became pregnant in 1954 and her father reportedly forbid her to marry an Arab, Joanne Schieble ran to San Francisco to give birth and put her son up for adoption. When her father died, she reunited with Jandali. They married and had a second child, but they divorced when daughter Mona Simpson was a toddler.
Jobs' biological sister Mona has authored several novels; her first in 1987, Anywhere but Here, became a bestseller that was adapted into a film starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman. A professor at UCLA, she was raised by her mother, but is estranged from Jandali.
POP CULTURE ALERT: Mona was at one time married to a writer on The Simpsons TV show. He named Bart's mother after her and attributed Lisa Simpson's intelligence to her grandma, Mona, in one of the early episodes.
In his now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs explained how his biological mom reluctantly signed adoption papers because she wanted her son to be raised by college grads. Instead, he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, a lower-middle class couple. Dad Paul was a machinist who never graduated from high school. But the couple promised Jobs' birth mom they would later send Steve to college. (A deal they spent their life savings to uphold until Jobs famously dropped out.)
In a rare unguarded moment, Steve Jobs talked to the New York Times in 1997 about tracking down and becoming close to his sister, Mona, as an adult. He said he was struck by the similarity in their intensity, traits and appearance. ''I used to be way over on the nurture side, but I've swung way over to the nature side,'' he told the Times.
Did Steve Jobs get his personality, intelligence, creativity, ambitiousness, egomania and risk-taking from his birth parents, whom he never knew growing up? It's entirely possible. As the mom of two kids who have spent all of their 12 years in the same household and yet are so incredibly different, I'm pretty convinced now that much of who we are is wired into the genes we're born with.
But I also know that Paul and Clara Jobs, both now dead, created opportunities for their son to become the genius the world would know. They raised him in Silicon Valley, where he discovered electronics in his neighbors' garages. They gave him the freedom to explore his interests. They tolerated some of his crazy pursuits (which included LSD, primal scream therapy and being a "fruitarian").
A child may be born with the "genetics" to be a great inventor, but if he never comes in contact with the right tools, he'll never fulfill his gift.
In the end, maybe it took two sets of parents to make someone like Steve Jobs.