Steve Jobs: Abandoned, then Chosen

steve jobs

Remember this meme? This is actually a cleaned-up version. I can’t find the one I was bombarded with in Oct 2011. That one read:


Notice in the meme above, how it looks as if the second line has been edited? I think it was.

To make a point, I’m going to concentrate on Steve Jobs’ story, although this could be the story of thousands of adoptees.

60 Minutes segment, 23 Oct 2011 (SJ died 5 Oct). Here Steve Kroft interviews Walter Isaacson, author of SJ’s authorized biography:

<start> Isaacson: He said, “From then on, I realized that I was not (just) abandoned. I was chosen. I was special.” And I think that’s the key to understanding Steve Jobs…

…This was not the only instance of his callous behavior during that time period. Just before Apple went public, his longtime girlfriend became pregnant, producing a daughter, Lisa. Jobs who had himself been born out of wedlock and abandoned, denied paternity and refused to pay support until the courts intervened. His behavior was typical of a phenomenon that Apple employees openly referred to as Steve’s “reality distortion field,” a term out of Star Trek, the ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything using his indomitable will and charisma to bend any fact to suit his purpose.

And at the root of this reality distortion theory, Isaacson says, was Jobs’ belief that he was special and chosen, and that the rules didn’t apply to him. <end>

Emphasis on “born out of wedlock and abandoned” mine. I wanted to show that here we have Steve Jobs’ official biographer, hand-picked, who spoke with SJ extensively, someone who should really know better – and even he falls into using this trite and very incorrect terminology.

I do not mean wrong in that it’s outmoded, though “out of wedlock” should be. I am referring to the word “abandoned.”

“Jobs was abandoned at birth and put up for adoption. The one condition his biological parents gave the adoption agency was that the parents of the family that would adopt the baby would have to be college graduates. The lawyer that was supposed to get Jobs ended up changing his mind when the baby was a boy and not a girl. And so Paul Jobs, a high school dropout ended up adopting Steve Jobs.

Jobs was abandoned, but as he said many times throughout his life, his adopted parents would not call it that, they would call him special and chosen. They would emphasize throughout his childhood that they singled him out and chose him, specifically. Of course, Jobs went on to live his life believing that he was special, and not abandoned. That obviously led to an increased self esteem, as opposed to what might have happened if he had grown up believing he was indeed abandoned.”
~ Hillel Fuld, tech blogger, Nov 2011

Alright, I understand the writer is a tech expert, not a linguist, but even he should be able to recognize how he contradicts himself here. If SJ’s biological parents abandoned him, how could they make demands on the “adoption agency?” (A doctor mediated the adoption, another fact he got wrong.)

Abandoned means just that: abandoned. Anonymously dumped, deliberately left behind, with no forwarding address. If SJ had been abandoned, how was he able to find his original parents? Abandoned would mean no records. Also, one cannot leave a child on a doorstep with a note attached saying, “Give him to someone with a college education,” and realistically expect that to happen.

Steve Jobs was not abandoned. A man who cannot marry his girlfriend because of her father’s objections and is not even aware of the pregnancy is not “abandoning” his child.  Abdulfattah “John” Jandali did not know about the baby until after the adoption was finalized. Informing putative fathers was not required then.

A woman who specifies the type of home her baby will be raised in and threatens to stop the relinquishment if her demands are not met is not “abandoning” her child. Joanne Schieble Simpson legally relinquished her baby who would go on to be known as Steve Jobs, and went above and beyond in making sure he would get a good home. In the era when closed adoption was the only option and great shame was put upon first mothers she showed exceptional strength.

And of course Paul and Clara Jobs did not “choose” their son. They got lucky. If the baby had been a girl she would have gone to the original prospective parents, the lawyer and his wife. Ms Schieble had to be convinced to allow the adoption to go through. This anonymous blue-collar couple was not of the caliber she specified. It was only because they promised, via the doctor, that they would provide their son with a college education that they were allowed to take him. Allowed. They were “allowed” to adopt The Chosen One. The fact is they would have taken any baby offered.

The only ones who could be accused of abandonment would be the original choice of adoptive parents — the lawyer and his wife who changed their minds.

And yet in the media frenzy surrounding Steve Jobs’ death, the Abandoned/Chosen myth flourished. His story is incredible already. There is no need for sensationalism. But after he died the internet was flooded with blogs and memes about the abandoned baby, born out of wedlock, raised by a nice yet uneducated couple – obviously at a disadvantage – who went on to change the world.

Steve Jobs was not abandoned. He also wasn’t chosen. Both words cheapen his experience. Even if he used these terms himself, he was wrong. Before he found his original parents, he coldly called them the “egg and sperm donors.” An expected response, really. If he was chosen – as his beloved adopted parents told him – if he was special, why was he given away? Certainly no real parents would do that. Since he believed the chosen and special story, he had to distance himself emotionally from the ones he believed abandoned him.

He distanced himself so much that, when he unintentionally repeated history with Lisa, his daughter, he claimed to be sterile. In similar circumstances and the exact same age as his bio parents when he was born, one would expect empathy. Instead he dug deeper and deeper into denial. He was now the sperm donor. But special, chosen people don’t accidentally procreate. So he hid behind a lie.

He had no idea then that Joanne Schieble and John Jandali were in love and went on to marry and have a daughter – his full sister – after he was relinquished. Or that they were never able to get over losing him, their first-born. Joanne was especially burdened, as the “woman who abandoned her baby.” Even though without her fierce demands, that baby never would have grown up to be the one of the greatest visionaries of the age.

SJ became so conditioned to the lies and was so entrenched in them, that after finding his original parents, he strained at having a relationship. He was embarrassed by Joanne’s need for forgiveness. And he never spoke to his father, even after John reached out to him as SJ was dying. The reality distortion field held. Only his sister, author Mona Simpson, was able to develop an instant and deep bond with him.

Society reinforced the message – directly and indirectly, day after day, year after year – that no matter how noble Joanne Schieble’s intentions, she was just a birth mother. An egg donor. A human incubator. An irresponsible whore who had her fun and then abandoned the result. Or if society is willing to give any credit, they leave her forever in the moment of relinquishment. That she “signed her baby away,” nothing more. And then they will turn around and call it abandonment. The “birth father” is given even less consideration. 

So to make up for the abandonment story, the child becomes chosen. Hand-picked. Selected. Better than natural born. Only it’s another lie.  A lie the child has to live up to.  Think about it. If you grow up hearing you were both given away and chosen, it means your place is transient. If you are chosen, you can be un-chosen. If you were given away once, why not again? So to hold your spot, you play the part of the ever-grateful abandoned/chosen one. You never, ever forget that you could be replaced. Even if this thought is never fully formed in the child’s mind, it is there.

It is said all adoptees naturally feel abandoned. I disagree. I believe society’s insistence of this myth makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because adoption is expected to be happy perfect rainbows (and in fact, people get upset if this delusion is challenged), adoptees will insist they are happy. Happy and well-adjusted and who-needs-those-birth-parents-anyway? Even adult adoptees will say whatever they think their adoptive parents want to hear, so afraid to hurt them, so afraid to lose their place.

Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbird and Found, was told she was her adoptive mother’s miracle, that she was why her mother was alive. Can you imagine the pressure? No one thought about how Jennifer felt, that she took this seriously. So when her mother died, this lost little seven year old felt responsible. What happens when your reason for existing is gone? When you have failed? What is your purpose and place after that?

Now women are encouraged to “make an adoption plan” for their unplanned pregnancies. That’s the new terminology. It works about as well as making a birth plan, for those who gave birth in the 1980s or later. But even while the Adoption Industry tries to make women feel empowered enough to relinquish their products (newborns), they reduce them to human incubators in calling them “birthmothers,” or even “our birthmothers.” They get as much respect as a handmaiden or concubine would in another culture. They aren’t the “real” mothers, only the gateway to some worthy infertile woman being a mother. It doesn’t matter if she stipulates she wants an open adoption. It doesn’t matter if she deeply regrets her decision a few months later. All that matters is that she signs on the dotted line, goes away and shuts up.

The child will be told they were special, chosen, and abandoned. That they grew in the wrong mommy’s tummy but are with their real parents now. And to be grateful.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide

4 thoughts on “Steve Jobs: Abandoned, then Chosen

  1. Really excellent, thanks for this. At the same time, I started up a Twitterbot to answer all of the nonsense about him on Twitter, as it took on a life of its own—the meme, like you say, got ahead of itself. I knew people who worked at Apple, who lived in fear of going to work every morning because the passive-aggressive mode of termination there was a pink slip on your keyboard. Not to speak ill of the dead, but there wasn’t too much speaking kindly of him while he was alive.

    Maybe I should fire it up again!

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