Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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In Reno, many unaware biological father of Apple’s Steve Jobs lives in town

Steve Jobs

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

In this March 2, 2011 file photo, Apple Inc. Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs waves to his audience at an Apple event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco. Apple on Aug. 24, 2011, said Jobs was resigning as CEO.

In the tumult following Steve Jobs' resignation, the media have been digging up interviews with Steve Jobs' biological father, Abdulfattah John Jandali, who is a Syrian-born vice president of a casino in Reno.

In the tumult following Steve Jobs' resignation, the media have been digging up interviews with Steve Jobs' biological father, Abdulfattah John Jandali, who is a Syrian-born vice president of a casino in Reno.

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RENO — Somehow it has escaped almost everyone’s notice for decades that the father of the man who transformed Apple Inc. from a tech has-been to one of the world’s most valuable companies has been quietly living in Nevada.

The resignation of Steve Jobs last week prompted a round of media retrospectives on his storied career. It also snatched his biological father — a longtime Reno restaurateur, casino executive and former political science professor and one-time Las Vegas resident — from relative obscurity.

In the days following Jobs’ announcement, Abdulfattah John Jandali, 80, broke his decades-long practice of avoiding media interviews to speak with a British tabloid about his wish to meet the famous son he gave up for adoption in 1955.

Although many who worked closely with Jandali at Boomtown Hotel knew he had fathered Jobs, the relationship was not widely known beyond the casino or often discussed openly.

Many in Reno’s political and business elite never knew that the man who produced one of America’s best-known business geniuses lived in their midst. The local newspaper never reported on Jandali’s famous progeny.

“Jeez, you leave the office for 10 minutes to get a sandwich and look what happens,” said state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who learned of the relationship when a reporter called him Monday.

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, who transformed Boomtown from a mom-and-pop truck stop into a resort in the late 1960s, also was unaware.

“Really?” Cashell said when a reporter told him of the relationship. “I’ve met the man once. I had no idea.”

Apparently, only those closest to Jandali were aware he is Jobs’ biological father.

“I did know that, but it’s kind of a secret,” said Dick Scott, a longtime Reno gaming executive, who was general manager of Boomtown before Jandali started work there.

“He doesn’t talk about it a lot, only to people he’s really close to.”

Scott, whose son-in-law Jack Fisher took over as general manager of Boomtown and worked closely with Jandali, told Scott of the relationship.

“I remember Jack Fisher walked in one day and told me that,” Scott said. “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ He said, ‘No. True story.’ ”

Fisher confirmed that Jandali doesn’t speak openly of his son.

“It’s a personal thing with him,” Fisher said. “I happened to come across it and asked him about it, and we haven’t really talked about it since.”

Jandali did not return repeated phone calls from the Las Vegas Sun. A spokeswoman for Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns Boomtown, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the relationship.

But the spokeswoman noted that it’s fairly well known at the company.

“I’m pretty sure most people have known for a while,” she said. “I was surprised people were surprised.”

Jandali, who was born in Syria and educated in Beirut, has lived in Reno for decades, including working as a political-science professor at UNR in the late 1960s.

His former colleagues in academia knew nothing of his son.

“Is this a crank call?” joked Eric Herzik, a political-science professor at UNR since the late 1980s. “I’ve never heard that story.”

Joe Crowley, former UNR president who was a political science faculty member with Jandali, knew nothing of the relationship. He described Jandali as a “very bright guy.”

“If that story is true, it wouldn’t be surprising that Steve Jobs is his son because John is very smart,” Crowley said.

Don Driggs, who was chairman of the political science department when Jandali taught at UNR and now lives in Chandler, Ariz., described Jandali as having been a “brilliant young man.”

“That’s amazing,” Driggs said. “That’s really something. He’s the biological father of one of the most famous men in the world?”

Fisher described Jandali as a “very kind man” and a “health nut” who exercises daily and is scrupulous about his diet.

“He’s one of the sharpest men I’ve ever known,” Fisher said. “He’s very creative. He’s very flexible when it comes to managing. I’ve always admired him for that.”

When it became known that Jobs was ill with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, Jandali mailed him his complete medical history with the hope it might help his ailing son, Fisher said.

Jandali’s time in Nevada is somewhat unclear. In addition to teaching at UNR in the late ’60s, he has managed several Reno restaurants and worked in Las Vegas for a time. According to his LinkedIn profile, he began work at Boomtown as the food and beverage manager in 1999. He was promoted to general manager last year.

Jandali’s story hasn’t been widely told. According to several national news accounts, Jobs has never spoken publicly of his biological father.

The British tabloid reported that while Jandali longs to connect with Jobs, his “Syrian pride” has stood in the way.

“This might sound strange, though, but I am not prepared, even if either of us was on our deathbed, to pick up the phone to call him,” Jandali told the newspaper. “Steve will have to do that as the Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after his fortune. I am not. I have my own money. What I don’t have is my son ... and that saddens me.”

Jobs’ biological mother, Joanne Schieble, and Jandali weren’t married when she became pregnant. They gave him up for adoption in San Francisco.

The couple later married and had a daughter. They divorced when she was 4 years old. Mona Simpson is now a noted author and has reportedly reconnected with her father.

The story of Jandali has captured the attention of some scholars involved in the nature versus nurture debate following the success of his two biological children — neither of whom he had a hand in raising.

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