Ellsworth ‘Derry’ Rundlett, III
I am a senior member of a large blended family that includes step-siblings, exes, in-laws and friends. When I visit my grandchildren, I sometimes quiz them to see whether they can follow the tangled branches of our family tree. I will say something like, “Papa Derry was once married to Grammy Marlys, true or false?” “False!” they will yell, though I can sometimes confuse them with first and second cousins.
Eight years ago, my daughter Nicole introduced a new twist to our motley tribe. She was Nick at the time, the best son a man could ask for, but — unbeknownst to the rest of the family — she had always identified as a woman. When Nicole decided to become her authentic self, I was startled and unsure — but time, education and counseling have made our parent/child relationship stronger than ever. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our extended family.
Prior to Nicki’s transition, Christmas was a delightful family-filled time, with everyone vacationing in one big rented house on the beach or in the mountains. Sometimes there would be as many as 20 people playing games, opening presents, and sharing large dinners. One Christmas, I looked around the dinner table and realized the only person with whom I had a blood relationship was my son, Nick.
Soon after Nick began to transition to Nicole, she and her wife divorced. While the mother of my grandchildren was as kind and forgiving as one would hope for, the traditional Christmas with all of us together was, in her mind, out of the question.
The rest of the extended family was also affected by this change. One person wrote a long holiday newsletter that mentioned every member of the family — except Nicole and her kids. Whether this omission was intentional or accidental, it stung. Nicole couldn’t help but feel it as an editorial comment on her new life.
Now, when Nicole approached the subject of a family holiday, she received excuses and regrets. One year, my wife and I invited Nicole’s former in-laws to dine with our grandchildren. Dinner at a Chinese restaurant was pleasant, but it was not the same as sitting around the tree, exchanging joke gifts, and telling family stories. While they were polite and cordial, we noticed that discussing my daughter’s life was simply out of the question. To my alarm, my grandson referred to Nicole as “the family secret.” I appreciated his honesty, but my daughter, whom I cherish, is anything but a secret.