What irony that Oct. 5, 3,000 miles from Occupy Wall Street, an icon of America’s free enterprise system passed away. Steve Jobs was only 56 and left behind a fortune of more than $8 billion. But not a person on the street could say their lives had not been enriched by this unapologetic capitalist, who didn’t set out to make money, but only to pursue work he loved.
Have people ever set up shrines to honor a deceased businessman? They did at Apple stores, as suddenly the technology we took for granted seemed more a blessing than a right. What if?
And, indeed, the ubiquity of Jobs in our daily lives — on our desks, in our pockets and on movie screens, like mementos left behind — only made us realize how little we knew of the man himself. Like the narrator in “Citizen Kane,” we longed for the backstory.
The story is just clicks away, like opening a puzzle box. What’s intriguing is that each piece poses more questions than it answers.
Joanne Scheible was a University of Wisconsin student when she met Abdulfattah Jandali, a Muslim immigrant from Syria teaching political science. When Scheible became pregnant, Jandali says, her strict fundamentalist Christian father forbade their marriage. An adoption was arranged, and according to Scheible’s wishes that the adoptive parents be college-educated, two lawyers were set to receive the baby. She traveled to San Francisco and on Feb. 24, 1955, gave birth to a boy.
Scheible’s plan went awry when the ideal couple decided they wanted a baby girl, sending the agency back to the waiting list to a couple named Paul and Clara Jobs, who — according to Steve — said simply “Of course.” When Scheible discovered they didn’t have a college education, she balked, but finally agreed when they promised to give Steve a college education.
In a post Roe v. Wade world, one can only ask, What if?
In a must-see commencement speech at Claremont University in 2005, Jobs first confessed he’d dropped out of college, then shared his adoption story, his drop-out story, his firing-from-his-own-company story and his struggle with pancreatic cancer, which at the time was in remission. In less than 15 minutes Jobs drew vital lessons from the three pivot points of his life — an example of how clear is the story arc of even the most complex life, and how that arc has teaching power for everyman.
Many books will be written and perhaps someday a movie — “Citizen Jobs”? In 700 words, all I can do is introduce a few of the choices and themes that characterized Jobs’ life.
He was raised a Lutheran, but as an adult declared himself a Buddhist. While some have been quick to decide his eternal fate, as Catholics we know that our responsibility is not to judge but to pray.
In his youth, he had a daughter out of wedlock. While at first he denied paternity, claiming he was sterile, he eventually acknowledged her as his daughter and supported her in her career.
His birth parents eventually married and had a daughter, Mona. Mona Simpson is a novelist who met her brother for the first time in 1984. They forged a close relationship and through Mona, Jobs met his biological mother. Despite recent overtures from his father, Jobs refused to meet him.
Jobs married Laurene Powell in 1991 in a Buddhist ceremony and they had three children. In 1995, when asked what he wanted to pass on to his children, Jobs replied, “Just to try to be as good a father to them as my father was to me. I think about that every day of my life.” When asked about his “adoptive parents,” Jobs replied emphatically that Paul and Clara Jobs “were my parents.”
Knowing his time was limited, Jobs spent his final weeks in close confines with his family, acknowledging that his passion for his work had meant he often wasn’t there for them and making the most of the time they had left together.
Even so, Jobs appears to have had his priorities in order. Dean Ornish, quoted in the The New York Times, said of Jobs: “I once asked him if he was glad that he had kids, and he said, ‘It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done.’”
Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
Curtis, who blogs at mommylife.net, is a mother of 12 and author from Lovettsville.