Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs: Both Estranged From Dads and Tech Successes
(NEW YORK) -- Jeff Bezos was already among the country's most successful men as CEO of Amazon.com, its largest online retailer. But the billionaire tech mogul can now add membership into an even smaller club of success stories: Those who grew up without their biological fathers.
Among Bezos' cohorts are such American success stories as Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, all of whom either didn't know or didn't grow up with their biological dads.
According to a profile of Bezos by Brad Stone, published this week by Bloomberg Businessweek, Bezos was adopted and raised by his stepfather as a young child and has not seen his biological father since he was a toddler.
Bezos' biological parents, Ted and Jackie Jorgensen, met in high school and married as teenagers when Jackie became pregnant with Jeff. But the pair split when Bezos was young, and Jackie remarried Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who helped raise Jeff into the CEO he would become, according to Stone's story.
Adoption "can affect you in a million different ways," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of the book Adoption Nation. "You've got nature and nurture, so if you're lucky enough to be born with the good stuff in you and the ability to be successful, and you have a family that nurtures you, then you're onto success."
Pertman pointed out that the difficulties of navigating one's identity through adoption can be difficult, and often lead to issues in life that impede success. But for some people -- among them Bezos and Jobs -- it can clearly be beneficial or be overcome by a stable adoptive family.
"It's often true that adopted people, because of their sense of loss, that bond that breaks between their original family and their new family, feel more compelled to show that they can do it," Pertman said. "It ties into rejection: 'Am I good enough? Was it because of me? I'm going to show that I'm worthy and good and won't let anything like that happen again.'"
Bezos' story is similar to that of Jobs, whose biological father was interviewed by reporters after Jobs was already a successful adult. Neither Jobs nor Bezos have spoken at length about their biological fathers, but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have both addressed the difficulties of growing up with absent fathers.
"It's a very strange and almost inexplicable phenomenon that so many of our most prominent political and cultural figures -- Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, John Lennon and Jeff Bezos -- had these unusual or nonexistent relationships with one or both birth parents," Stone wrote in an email to ABC News.
Stone, whose Bloomberg Businessweek profile is an excerpt from his book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, tracked down Bezos' father to a bike shop he runs in Arizona, and asked him about having a son who is so successful. According to Stone, Jorgenson had no idea the baby he last saw more than 40 years ago grew up to become one of the most influential corporate titans of our time.
"I was floored," Stone told ABC News of the encounter.
The encounter was reminiscent of that of Steve Jobs, another tech giant who had no relationship with his biological father after he was adopted as a baby.
Abdulfattah "John" Jandali, a Syrian man who fathered Jobs, emailed his son and spoke to the media about wanting to have a relationship with the Apple CEO. Before Jobs' 2011 death, Jandali said that he hoped to meet with Jobs soon, but didn't want to call him because he feared it would seem like Jandali was only after Jobs' fortune.
Jandali spoke to the Wall Street Journal after his son's death, saying that he had almost no contact with Jobs. Jandali's friends told the Journal that the estrangement was "a source of great sadness" that Jandali kept hidden for years.
Similarly, Bezos' estranged biological father was also emotional over his son, according to Stone's story in Businessweek.
"The face of his child, frozen in infancy, has been stuck in his mind for nearly half a century," Jorgenson's wife told Stone.
Pertman, the psychologist, said that it can be difficult for parents separated from their children through adoption to reconnect, especially when wealth is involved.
"It's complicated by his wealth," Pertman said.
"He's probably thought about this child for years. People don't create lives and pretend they didn't happen. Typically when a birth parent finds out there's a child, they want to know what happened to the life they created," he said. "It's normal. But the notoriety and money does skew it."
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