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Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word

Mona Simpson and her fiancé, Richard Appel, 1991

Joan Baez

In 1982, when he was still working on the Macintosh, Jobs met the famed folksinger Joan Baez through her sister Mimi Fari?a, who headed a charity that was trying to get donations of computers for prisons. A few weeks later he and Baez had lunch in Cupertino. “I wasn’t expecting a lot, but she was really smart and funny,” he recalled. At the time, he was nearing the end of his relationship with Barbara Jasinski. They had vacationed in Hawaii, shared a house in the Santa Cruz mountains, and even gone to one of Baez’s concerts together. As his relationship with Jasinski flamed out, Jobs began getting more serious with Baez. He was twenty-seven and Baez was forty-one, but for a few years they had a romance. “It turned into a serious relationship between two accidental friends who became lovers,” Jobs recalled in a somewhat wistful tone.

Elizabeth Holmes, Jobs’s friend from Reed College, believed that one of the reasons he went out with Baez—other than the fact that she was beautiful and funny and talented—was that she had once been the lover of Bob Dylan. “Steve loved that connection to Dylan,” she later said. Baez and Dylan had been lovers in the early 1960s, and they toured as friends after that, including with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. (Jobs had the bootlegs of those concerts.)

When she met Jobs, Baez had a fourteen-year-old son, Gabriel, from her marriage to the antiwar activist David Harris. At lunch she told Jobs she was trying to teach Gabe how to type. “You mean on a typewriter?” Jobs asked. When she said yes, he replied, “But a typewriter is antiquated.”

“If a typewriter is antiquated, what does that make me?” she asked. There was an awkward pause. As Baez later told me, “As soon as I said it, I realized the answer was so obvious. The question just hung in the air. I was just horrified.”

Much to the astonishment of the Macintosh team, Jobs burst into the office one day with Baez and showed her the prototype of the Macintosh. They were dumbfounded that he would reveal the computer to an outsider, given his obsession with secrecy, but they were even more blown away to be in the presence of Joan Baez. He gave Gabe an Apple II, and he later gave Baez a Macintosh. On visits Jobs would show off the features he liked. “He was sweet and patient, but he was so advanced in his knowledge that he had trouble teaching me,” she recalled.

He was a sudden multimillionaire; she was a world-famous celebrity, but sweetly down-to-earth and not all that wealthy. She didn’t know what to make of him then, and still found him puzzling when she talked about him almost thirty years later. At one dinner early in their relationship, Jobs started talking about Ralph Lauren and his Polo Shop, which she admitted she had never visited. “There’s a beautiful red dress there that would be perfect for you,” he said, and then drove her to the store in the Stanford Mall. Baez recalled, “I said to myself, far out, terrific, I’m with one of the world’s richest men and he wants me to have this beautiful dress.” When they got to the store, Jobs bought a handful of shirts for himself and showed her the red dress. “You ought to buy it,” he said. She was a little surprised, and told him she couldn’t really afford it. He said nothing, and they left. “Wouldn’t you think if someone had talked like that the whole evening, that they were going to get it for you?” she asked me, seeming genuinely puzzled about the incident. “The mystery of the red dress is in your hands. I felt a bit strange about it.” He would give her computers, but not a dress, and when he brought her flowers he made sure to say they were left over from an event in the office. “He was both romantic and afraid to be romantic,” she said.

When he was working on the NeXT computer, he went to Baez’s house in Woodside to show her how well it could produce music. “He had it play a Brahms quartet, and he told me eventually computers would sound better than humans playing it, even get the innuendo and the cadences better,” Baez recalled. She was revolted by the idea. “He was working himself up into a fervor of delight while I was shrinking into a rage and thinking, How could you defile music like that?”

Jobs would confide in Debi Coleman and Joanna Hoffman about his relationship with Baez and worry about whether he could marry someone who had a teenage son and was probably past the point of wanting to have more children. “At times he would belittle her as being an ‘issues’ singer and not a true ‘political’ singer like Dylan,” said Hoffman. “She was a strong woman, and he wanted to show he was in control. Plus, he always said he wanted to have a family, and with her he knew that he wouldn’t.”

And so, after about three years, they ended their romance and drifted into becoming just friends. “I thought I was in love with her, but I really just liked her a lot,” he later said. “We weren’t destined to be together. I wanted kids, and she didn’t want any more.” In her 1989 memoir, Baez wrote about her breakup with her husband and why she never remarried: “I belonged alone, which is how I have been since then, with occasional interruptions that are mostly picnics.” She did add a nice acknowledgment at the end of the book to “Steve Jobs for forcing me to use a word processor by putting one in my kitchen.”

Finding Joanne and Mona

When Jobs was thirty-one, a year after his ouster from Apple, his mother Clara, who was a smoker, was stricken with lung cancer. He spent time by her deathbed, talking to her in ways he had rarely done in the past and asking some questions he had refrained from raising before. “When you and Dad got married, were you a virgin?” he asked. It was hard for her to talk, but she forced a smile. That’s when she told him that she had been married before, to a man who never made it back from the war. She also filled in some of the details of how she and Paul Jobs had come to adopt him.

Soon after that, Jobs succeeded in tracking down the woman who had put him up for adoption. His quiet quest to find her had begun in the early 1980s, when he hired a detective who had failed to come up with anything. Then Jobs noticed the name of a San Francisco doctor on his birth certificate. “He was in the phone book, so I gave him a call,” Jobs recalled. The doctor was no help. He claimed that his records had been destroyed in a fire. That was not true. In fact, right after Jobs called, the doctor wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope, and wrote on it, “To be delivered to Steve Jobs on my death.” When he died a short time later, his widow sent the letter to Jobs. In it, the doctor explained that his mother had been an unmarried graduate student from Wisconsin named Joanne Schieble.

It took another few weeks and the work of another detective to track her down. After giving him up, Joanne had married his biological father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, and they had another child, Mona. Jandali abandoned them five years later, and Joanne married a colorful ice-skating instructor, George Simpson. That marriage didn’t last long either, and in 1970 she began a meandering journey that took her and Mona (both of them now using the last name Simpson) to Los Angeles.

Jobs had been reluctant to let Paul and Clara, whom he considered his real parents, know about his search for his birth mother. With a sensitivity that was unusual for him, and which showed the deep affection he felt for his parents, he worried that they might be offended. So he never contacted Joanne Simpson until after Clara Jobs died in early 1986. “I never wanted them to feel like I didn’t consider them my parents, because they were totally my parents,” he recalled. “I loved them so much that I never wanted them to know of my search, and I even had reporters keep it quiet when any of them found out.” When Clara died, he decided to tell Paul Jobs, who was perfectly comfortable and said he didn’t mind at all if Steve made contact with his biological mother.

So one day Jobs called Joanne Simpson, said who he was, and arranged to come down to Los Angeles to meet her. He later claimed it was mainly out of curiosity. “I believe in environment more than heredity in determining your traits, but still you have to wonder a little about your biological roots,” he said. He also wanted to reassure Joanne that what she had done was all right. “I wanted to meet my biological mother mostly to see if she was okay and to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion. She was twenty-three and she went through a lot to have me.”

Joanne was overcome with emotion when Jobs arrived at her Los Angeles house. She knew he was famous and rich, but she wasn’t exactly sure why. She immediately began to pour out her emotions. She had been pressured to sign the papers putting him up for adoption, she said, and did so only when told that he was happy in the house of his new parents. She had always missed him and suffered about what she had done. She apologized over and over, even as Jobs kept reassuring her that he understood, and that things had turned out just fine.

Once she calmed down, she told Jobs that he had a full sister, Mona Simpson, who was then an aspiring novelist in Manhattan. She had never told Mona that she had a brother, and that day she broke the news, or at least part of it, by telephone. “You have a brother, and he’s wonderful, and he’s famous, and I’m going to bring him to New York so you can meet him,” she said. Mona was in the throes of finishing a novel about her mother and their peregrination from Wisconsin to Los Angeles, Anywhere but Here. Those who’ve read it will not be surprised that Joanne was somewhat quirky in the way she imparted to Mona the news about her brother. She refused to say who he was—only that he had been poor, had gotten rich, was good-looking and famous, had long dark hair, and lived in California. Mona then worked at the Paris Review, George Plimpton’s literary journal housed on the ground floor of his townhouse near Manhattan’s East River. She and her coworkers began a guessing game on who her brother might be. John Travolta? That was one of the favorite guesses. Other actors were also hot prospects. At one point someone did toss out a guess that “maybe it’s one of those guys who started Apple computer,” but no one could recall their names.

The meeting occurred in the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel. “He was totally straightforward and lovely, just a normal and sweet guy,” Mona recalled. They all sat and talked for a few minutes, then he took his sister for a long walk, just the two of them. Jobs was thrilled to find that he had a sibling who was so similar to him. They were both intense in their artistry, observant of their surroundings, and sensitive yet strong-willed. When they went to dinner together, they noticed the same architectural details and talked about them excitedly afterward. “My sister’s a writer!” he exulted to colleagues at Apple when he found out.

When Plimpton threw a party for Anywhere but Here in late 1986, Jobs flew to New York to accompany Mona to it. They grew increasingly close, though their friendship had the complexities that might be expected, considering who they were and how they had come together. “Mona was not completely thrilled at first to have me in her life and have her mother so emotionally affectionate toward me,” he later said. “As we got to know each other, we became really good friends, and she is my family. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I can’t imagine a better sister. My adopted sister, Patty, and I were never close.” Mona likewise developed a deep affection for him, and at times could be very protective, although she would later write an edgy novel about him, A Regular Guy, that described his quirks with discomforting accuracy.

One of the few things they would argue about was her clothes. She dressed like a struggling novelist, and he would berate her for not wearing clothes that were “fetching enough.” At one point his comments so annoyed her that she wrote him a letter: “I am a young writer, and this is my life, and I’m not trying to be a model anyway.” He didn’t answer. But shortly after, a box arrived from the store of Issey Miyake, the Japanese fashion designer whose stark and technology-influenced style made him one of Jobs’s favorites. “He’d gone shopping for me,” she later said, “and he’d picked out great things, exactly my size, in flattering colors.” There was one pantsuit that he had particularly liked, and the shipment included three of them, all identical. “I still remember those first suits I sent Mona,” he said. “They were linen pants and tops in a pale grayish green that looked beautiful with her reddish hair.”

The Lost Father

In the meantime, Mona Simpson had been trying to track down their father, who had wandered off when she was five. Through Ken Auletta and Nick Pileggi, prominent Manhattan writers, she was introduced to a retired New York cop who had formed his own detective agency. “I paid him what little money I had,” Simpson recalled, but the search was unsuccessful. Then she met another private eye in California, who was able to find an address for Abdulfattah Jandali in Sacramento through a Department of Motor Vehicles search. Simpson told her brother and flew out from New York to see the man who was apparently their father.

Jobs had no interest in meeting him. “He didn’t treat me well,” he later explained. “I don’t hold anything against him—I’m happy to be alive. But what bothers me most is that he didn’t treat Mona well. He abandoned her.” Jobs himself had abandoned his own illegitimate daughter, Lisa, and now was trying to restore their relationship, but that complexity did not soften his feelings toward Jandali. Simpson went to Sacramento alone.

“It was very intense,” Simpson recalled. She found her father working in a small restaurant. He seemed happy to see her, yet oddly passive about the entire situation. They talked for a few hours, and he recounted that, after he left Wisconsin, he had drifted away from teaching and gotten into the restaurant business.

Jobs had asked Simpson not to mention him, so she didn’t. But at one point her father casually remarked that he and her mother had had another baby, a boy, before she had been born. “What happened to him?” she asked. He replied, “We’ll never see that baby again. That baby’s gone.” Simpson recoiled but said nothing.

An even more astonishing revelation occurred when Jandali was describing the previous restaurants that he had run. There had been some nice ones, he insisted, fancier than the Sacramento joint they were then sitting in. He told her, somewhat emotionally, that he wished she could have seen him when he was managing a Mediterranean restaurant north of San Jose. “That was a wonderful place,” he said. “All of the successful technology people used to come there. Even Steve Jobs.” Simpson was stunned. “Oh, yeah, he used to come in, and he was a sweet guy, and a big tipper,” her father added. Mona was able to refrain from blurting out, Steve Jobs is your son!

When the visit was over, she called Jobs surreptitiously from the pay phone at the restaurant and arranged to meet him at the Espresso Roma café in Berkeley. Adding to the personal and family drama, he brought along Lisa, now in grade school, who lived with her mother, Chrisann. When they all arrived at the café, it was close to 10 p.m., and Simpson poured forth the tale. Jobs was understandably astonished when she mentioned the restaurant near San Jose. He could recall being there and even meeting the man who was his biological father. “It was amazing,” he later said of the revelation. “I had been to that restaurant a few times, and I remember meeting the owner. He was Syrian. Balding. We shook hands.”

Nevertheless Jobs still had no desire to see him. “I was a wealthy man by then, and I didn’t trust him not to try to blackmail me or go to the press about it,” he recalled. “I asked Mona not to tell him about me.”

She never did, but years later Jandali saw his relationship to Jobs mentioned online. (A blogger noticed that Simpson had listed Jandali as her father in a reference book and figured out he must be Jobs’s father as well.) By then Jandali was married for a fourth time and working as a food and beverage manager at the Boomtown Resort and Casino just west of Reno, Nevada. When he brought his new wife, Roscille, to visit Simpson in 2006, he raised the topic. “What is this thing about Steve Jobs?” he asked. She confirmed the story, but added that she thought Jobs had no interest in meeting him. Jandali seemed to accept that. “My father is thoughtful and a beautiful storyteller, but he is very, very passive,” Simpson said. “He never contacted Steve.”

Simpson turned her search for Jandali into a basis for her second novel, The Lost Father, published in 1992. (Jobs convinced Paul Rand, the designer who did the NeXT logo, to design the cover, but according to Simpson, “It was God-awful and we never used it.”) She also tracked down various members of the Jandali family, in Homs and in America, and in 2011 was writing a novel about her Syrian roots. The Syrian ambassador in Washington threw a dinner for her that included a cousin and his wife who then lived in Florida and had flown up for the occasion.

Simpson assumed that Jobs would eventually meet Jandali, but as time went on he showed even less interest. In 2010, when Jobs and his son, Reed, went to a birthday dinner for Simpson at her Los Angeles house, Re............
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