Share this article:

Steve Jobs’ birth father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, learned the identity of his son only very late in life. Then it took years for Jandali to gently reach out to the grown man to whom he bears an unmistakable likeness and whom he gave up for adoption as an infant a half-century earlier.

In an impossibly sad interview published Monday by the Wall Street Journal, we learn that there would never be a reunion between Jobs and his birth father, or even the sort of reconciliation Jobs had managed as an adult with his birth mother, Joanne Simpson.

Jobs was, at best, courteously curt when Jandali wrote him happy birthday sentiments, or to wish him well in his battle with cancer. According to Jandali, Jobs responded with a one-sentence email: “Thank you.” Sources close to the Jobs family tell the WSJ that Jobs didn’t respond at all.

As word of Jobs’ demise spread last Wednesday and dominated the news cycle for days, there was little to no mention of the current circumstances of Jandali or even Joanne Simpson. I must confess I assumed Jandali had died long ago, having never heard a contemporaneous word about him. And given the circumstances, I also did not think it odd that he would receive only cursory, historical mention in any obituary.

It was well known, of course, that Jobs was born when the Syrian-born Jandali and the Wisconsin native Simpson were young, unmarried graduate students, and Simpson placed him for adoption with Paul and Clara Jobs. In his now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs explains how Simpson only reluctantly signed the adoption papers, having wanted her son to be adopted by college graduates and attend college. Subsequently, Jandali and Simpson married, and Jandali fathered Jobs’ biological sister, award-winning-novelist Mona Simpson, before the couple again separated and then divorced.


In 2005, in a moving
address at Stanford University after receiving surgery for pancreas cancer,
he reflected on his own mortality, urging his audience: "Your time is
limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." Below is the full
text from the speech

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the
finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be
told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I
want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just
three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed
around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So
why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed
college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She
felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so
everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his
wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that
they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a
call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do
you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out
that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had
never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption
papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that
I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that
was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents'
savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I
couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my
life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I
was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I
decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty
scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever
made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes
that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor
in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food
with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to
get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much
of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out
to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction
in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every
drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and
didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy
class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif
typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter
combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful,
historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I
found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But
ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it
all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first
computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that
single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces
or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's
likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped
out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal
computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course
it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in
college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect
them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow
connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny,
life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made
all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started
Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years
Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2bn company
with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the
Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired.
How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we
hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me,
and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the
future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did,
our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very
publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and
it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the
previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as
it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried
to apologise for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I
even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began
to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had
not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And
so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was
the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being
successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less
sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative
periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company
named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my
wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature
film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the
world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to
Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's
current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired
from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed
it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm
convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I
did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as
it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your
life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is
great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If
you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters
of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great
relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep
looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each
day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It
made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have
looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the
last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And
whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need
to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever
encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost
everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of
embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of
death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going
to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have
something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow
your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the
morning, and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn't even know
what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type
of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer
than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my
affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to
try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years
to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is
buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It
means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy,
where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into
my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the
tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they
viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it
turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with
surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest
I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this
to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely
intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die
to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has
ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely
the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out
the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not
too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.
Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't
be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's
thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner
voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and
intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth
Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a
fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought
it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before
personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with
typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in
paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and
overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and
then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the
mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a
photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find
yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the
words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they
signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for
myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.



Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Please refrain from nicknames or comments of a racist, sexist, personal, vulgar or derogatory nature, or you may risk being blocked from commenting in our website. We encourage commentators to use their real names as their username. As comments are moderated, they may not appear immediately or even on the same day you posted them. We also reserve the right to delete off-topic comments. If you need to contact our Jamath EXCO to share any ideas or issues please use our contact us form.
Notify of