Childhood Abandoned and Chosen
When Paul Jobs was mustered out of the Coast Guard after World War II, he made a wager with his crewmates. They had arrived in San Francisco, where their ship was decommissioned, and Paul bet that he would find himself a wife within two weeks. He was a taut, tattooed engine mechanic, six feet tall, with a passing resemblance to James Dean. But it wasn’t his looks that got him a date with Clara Hagopian, a sweet-humored daughter of Armenian immigrants. It was the fact that he and his friends had a car, unlike the group she had originally planned to go out with that evening. Ten days later, in March 1946, Paul got engaged to Clara and won his wager. It would turn out to be a happy marriage, one that lasted until death parted them more than forty years later.
Paul Reinhold Jobs had been raised on a dairy farm in Germantown, Wisconsin. Even though his father was an alcoholic and sometimes abusive, Paul ended up with a gentle and calm disposition under his leathery exterior. After dropping out of high school, he wandered through the Midwest picking up work as a mechanic until, at age nineteen, he joined the Coast Guard, even though he didn’t know howto swim. He was deployed on the USS General M. C. Meigs and spent much of the war ferrying troops to Italy for General Patton. His talent as a machinist and fireman earned him commendations, but he occasionally found himself in minor trouble and never rose above the rank of seaman.
Clara was born in New Jersey, where her parents had landed after fleeing the Turks in Armenia, and they moved to the Mission District of San Francisco when she was a child. She had a secret that she rarely mentioned to anyone: She had been married before, but her husband had been killed in the war. So when she met Paul Jobs on that first date, she was primed to start a new life.
Like many who lived through the war, they had experienced enough excitement that, when it was over, they desired simply to settle down, raise a family, and lead a less eventful life. They had little money, so they moved to Wisconsin and lived with Paul’s parents for a few years, then headed for Indiana, where he got a job as a machinist for International Harvester. His passion was tinkering with old cars, and he made money in his spare time buying, restoring, and selling them. Eventually he quit his day job to become a full-time used car salesman.
Clara, however, loved San Francisco, and in 1952 she convinced her husband to move back there. They got an apartment in the Sunset District facing the Pacific, just south of Golden Gate Park, and he took a job working for a finance company as a “repo man,” picking the locks of cars whose owners hadn’t paid their loans and repossessing them. He also bought, repaired, and sold some of the cars, making a decent enough living in the process.
There was, however, something missing in their lives. They wanted children, but Clara had suffered an ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg was implanted in a fallopian tube rather than the uterus, and she had been unable to have any. So by 1955, after nine years of marriage, they were looking to adopt a child.
Like Paul Jobs, Joanne Schieble was from a rural Wisconsin family of German heritage. Her father, Arthur Schieble, had immigrated to the outskirts of Green Bay, where he and his wife owned a mink farm and dabbled successfully in various other businesses, including realestate and photoengraving. He was very strict, especially regarding his daughter’s relationships, and he had strongly disapproved of her first love, an artist who was not a Catholic. Thus it was no surprise that he threatened to cut Joanne off completely when, as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, she fell in love with Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a Muslim teaching assistant from Syria.
Jandali was the youngest of nine children in a prominent Syrian family. His father owned oil refineries and multiple other businesses, with large holdings in Damascus and Homs, and at one point pretty much controlled the price of wheat in the region. His mother, he later said, was a “traditional Muslim woman” who was a “conservative, obedient housewife.” Like the Schieble family, the Jandalis put a premium on education. Abdulfattah was sent to a Jesuit boarding school, even though he was Muslim, and he got an undergraduate degree at the American University in Beirut before entering the University of Wisconsin to pursue a doctoral degree in political science.
In the summer of 1954, Joanne went with Abdulfattah to Syria. They spent two months in Homs, where she learned from his family to cook Syrian dishes. When they returned to Wisconsin she discovered that she was pregnant. They were both twenty-three, but they decided not to get married. Her father was dying at the time, and he had threatened to disown her if she wed Abdulfattah. Nor was abortion an easy option in a small Catholic community. So in early 1955, Joanne traveled to San Francisco, where she was taken into the care of a kindly doctor who sheltered unwed mothers, delivered their babies, and quietly arranged closed adoptions.