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In Fatherly's New Book, Brandon Jenner Is Candid About His Evolving Relationship With Caitlyn Jenner

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Excerpted from To Me, He Was Just Dad by Joshua David Stein and the editors of Fatherly (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photograph by ZUMA Press, Inc.

Caitlyn Jenner is a former Olympian and reality television star. Born in Mount Kisco, New York, in 1949, Jenner was the breakout star of the 1976 Summer Olympics, where she won the decathlon and was dubbed “the world’s greatest athlete.” Following her retirement from sports, Jenner became a businessman and entrepreneur. She was married three times, most recently to Kris Jenner, with whom she starred in Keeping Up With the Kardashians. She has six children, Burt, Casey, Brandon, Brody, Kendall, and Kylie.

The following essay by her son Brandon was excerpted from To Me, He Was Just Dad, a book of essays by the children of famous fathers.

My father spent the first sixty-five years of her life trying to avoid answering the question “How are you doing?” And because of that, she didn’t ask it often, either. And though I understand that she avoided the question because the answer would have laid bare too many struggles, it made my relationship with her challenging. People connect with each other through vulnerability, and you can only get someone to open up to you if you are willing to be vulnerable yourself. Because she was shielding something so important from herself, Dad remained distant for much of my life.

I am my mother’s first child and my father’s third. My half brother, Burt, and half sister Casey lived with their mother. My younger brother, Brody, my mother, my father, and I lived in a quaint wooden craftsman house in Malibu, one of the first built. But I don’t have many memories from before my parents split up and my father moved out. I was four years old at the time. They got divorced because my dad had decided to start transitioning to female (at least that was what they had discussed). I, of course, was too young then to have any idea what was behind their decision.

I do, however, remember a few details from my early childhood that only made sense much later. For instance, when I was very young, I used to love to fiddle with people’s ears. Once when I reached out to touch my dad’s ears, he said, “Don’t do that. I just had surgery.” He pointed to a thin line of small black stitches behind his ear, grinned, and said, “They took my ear off, peeled my face back, and then stitched it back on.” And a little while after my parents had divorced, I asked Mom what the deal was with Dad’s boobs. She told me that sometimes when a man is muscular and then doesn’t work out, he gets boobs. In reality, my father had had plastic surgery, was undergoing electrolysis, and was taking hormones in order to appear more feminine.

Though both of my parents did a good job of shielding my brother and me from their marital problems, I knew they were going through a difficult time. It was very confusing for my mother, and for my father as well. They went to therapy before ultimately deciding to divorce, and for the first few years after that, they were very amicable. Mom started dating David Foster, whom she later married. I never called him dad, but he was the one who lived with us, who told me to pick up my clothes and turn off the lights—all the typical dad things. So even though this essay is about Caitlyn, I could write one just as easily about David. He was a wonderful father figure.

A few years after my parents divorced, Dad apparently decided that it wasn’t the right time to transition and had many of his surgeries reversed. After that, his relationship with my mother grew more hostile. She had worked hard to accept that the reason my dad couldn’t be with her was because he was working toward transitioning. When he started dating Kris Jenner, whom he would go on to marry, that line of reasoning fell apart. It was tremendously painful. The effect of my parents’ souring relationship was that I didn’t see my father more than half a dozen times between ages eight and twenty-five. Sadly, the infrequent exchanges felt more like staged photo opportunities than real bonding. In fact, they were staged photo ops for “family” Christmas cards: me, Brody, Burt, and Casey alongside our father. We were one big happy family. For a day.

Because of this, most of the memories I have of my dad are from the narrow slice of time before I was eight years old. I remember him betting Brody and me twenty dollars that he could beat us to the top of these insanely high sand dunes off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and then just smoking us. He ran a flat-out decathlete sprint. He didn’t even pretend to let us win.

Another time, he bought me a bike but made me promise I’d pay him back for it. It cost $250. Weeks later, we were at the beach together and Dad picked up an apricot off the ground. He pointed out a skinny little tree maybe fifty or sixty feet away. “Brandon,” he said, “if you nail the trunk of the tree, you’ll only owe me half for that bike.” I was pitching Little League at the time, and, sure enough, I hit the tree. I was really proud of myself and thought he would be, too. Perhaps he was, but all he said was, “Now you just owe me one hundred twenty-five dollars.” I was eight and had no idea how I’d make the money.

After Dad met and married Kris, family became a business for him, and I stayed away for most of my teenage years. I didn’t want to be a part of their dynamic. I know now, though, that Dad was pretty unhappy in that house and felt he wasn’t treated well.

When I was in my twenties and his daughters with Kris, Kendall and Kylie, were teenagers, my dad and I began to reestablish a relationship. Dad wasn’t as needed around the house and, I think, was looking for someone to talk to. Although, to be honest, instead of talking, we did things. We worked on my 1965 Mustang Fastback or flew RC planes in the park near his house.

But even then, it always seemed Dad had his guard up.

Once Dad decided to go through with the transition, I was the first of her children she confided in. My mother had told me what was going on a few years earlier, but I had never broached the subject with my father. As soon as Dad said it herself, I was so happy for her. It was as if she were truly stepping into who she was. I was proud, too, that she was publicly embracing something she had struggled with for so long. As her son, I wish my dad had been able to transition sooner, not only because I think she would have been happier, but because I think we could have built a stronger relationship earlier.

Now I’m making up for lost time. I speak to my dad almost every day, and every time, she asks me, “How are you doing?”

To Me, He Was Just Dad: Stories Of Growing Up With Famous Fathers is available for purchase here.

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