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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris. And here's a story about what to any casual observer might seem to be a perfect marriage. It's about a family man's hidden life, and it's chronicled by a family friend, Eric Winick.

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ERIC WINICK: On April 23, 2004, Doug Nadeau was running on the beach when he stopped breathing and collapsed. At the hospital, when doctors removed his clothes, they found women's underwear and a series of foam pads fastened to Doug's hips and chest.

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WINICK: The story of how those pads got there and how Doug died is one I used to think of as a tragedy. But now I'm not so sure. Now, I think it's a love story.

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WINICK: I grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a classic, old New England town known for its spectacular harbor and yacht clubs. We had our share of remarkable families, but the one I remember best were the Nadeaus. I'd met the son when I was in the sixth grade and over time got to know his parents as well. Lynn was an award-winning math teacher and activist, and Doug was a prominent Boston attorney with degrees from Harvard, Princeton and Yale. The Nadeaus, they were rock stars.

Ms. LYNN NADEAU: Doug, I felt, had an inner plan about how to live his life. He had decided what he wanted. Turned out, I fit into it. He had decided he wanted to be a homeowner, have children, be a successful lawyer, and I was just part of the plan. And I agreed to go along with it because I didn't have a plan and I had signed up for the program.

WINICK: Doug and Lynn married in 1963, and within four years, they had two sons, Ted and Greg. In '68, they moved to Marblehead, where, from all accounts, Doug was a model citizen, husband and dad. To the casual observer, this was a charmed family living a charmed life. And no year was better for them than 1985.

Ms. NADEAU: It seemed as if it was the fruition of everything that we had worked toward. We were 45 years old. Our two sons had a good childhood and youth. Doug's career was doing wonderfully. He was an international lawyer traveling all around the world. And I was about to change - I was poised to change high-school mathematics in the country. We were in great shape. We ran three miles a morning, every day, on the beach at 5:30 before we went off for work. And our lives were really perfect.

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Ms. NADEAU: After the best year of our lives, that spring, our younger son had gone away to college and we took a trip with a group of lawyers to China, Japan and Korea, and while we were there, Doug contracted a virus. When we returned, we couldn't figure out why he was always tired and then he began showing neurological symptoms, which were eye blinking, head twisting, facial grimacing, eyes being plastered shut. And what Doug called the grayness of his personal winter came down upon on us, and ultimately it was diagnosed as a Parkinsonian-like illness.

WINICK: Doug's condition was caused by a lack of dopamine, a chemical that, under normal circumstances, is manufactured by your brain. For various reasons, Doug's brain couldn't make dopamine, so the doctors loaded him up with medicine. But the drugs didn't last and at night Doug would lose his mobility and end up confined to his bed, listening to classical music - Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, anything to soothe his restless mind.

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WINICK: Meanwhile, things at work were about to get a whole lot worse.

Ms. NADEAU: His partners in the law firm closed the door so that clients would not see this grimacing, peculiar, head-twisting person. And eventually one day he went to work and they had taken his name - he was an equal partner with the other two - but they had taken his name off the front door and said that they had come to an end of their way. So, Doug had to get another job with another law firm. He struggled and struggled. And in retrospect, I see him clinging to that old self - the self that he had been all his life and worked toward - and having that self taken away from him bit by bit.

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Ms. NADEAU: In 1995, it looked as if he was going to be completely - he called himself a party vegetable; that is, he was going to be just like a plant in the corner somewhere - when we learned about a certain surgery called a pallidotomy, which he had in March of '95. That pallidotomy was a miracle, and after that pallidotomy there was such hope. We went to Sicily and walked from the center of Sicily to the coast with a group of English hikers and he - Doug led the way. He thought he would get his life back again.

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WINICK: In order to tell the next part of the story, I have to rewind back a bit to 1963. Lynn and Doug have just married and are living in Cambridge. It's late one night and Doug comes to Lynn with a question.

Ms. NADEAU: I was eight months pregnant. It was dark in our bedroom when he said to me, Lynn, did you ever wonder what it would be like to be some else? And maybe that doesn't sound like a complicated sentence to you, listening to it now, but to me, the way that he said it struck fear in my heart. What did he mean? And then he told me that he had a penchant for cross-dressing and that he wondered what it would be like to be a woman instead of a man. And I was stunned, scared, disgusted and confused - after all, I was going to have a baby in a month - and that's when he told me.

Doug explained to me that he would cross-dress when under stress - sort of a release, at the time sexual - that is, when he was young. And when he went on trips to - business trips and so forth - he would pack women's clothes with him, and if he were in a hotel by himself on a business trip, he would cross-dress. And I was disapproving, disgusted, all those various things, but I do remember once I thought, oh, come on, Lynn, be open-minded, entertain the thought, who would you be, Lynn, if you had been born male? It was sort of the philosophical thought of, does gender create the being that we are? I mean, it's a question that people ask.

WINICK: OK, back to 1995. Lynn's been living with this secret for more than 30 years. Doug has this radical procedure designed to burn away neurons that aren't letting his medicine work. And initially, it's a success. But there's a catch. To tell you about that, here's Doug himself, speaking in the late '90s as part of a local cable documentary.

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Mr. DOUG NADEAU (Lawyer): And I learned after the operation that the operation also has an additional effect, which is to reduce the inhibitory neurons that deal with social conduct, rather than just muscles, so that there's a definite effect, which has just recently been described to me as the effect of disinhibition. People who have had pallidotomy operations become less inhibited, or disinhibited, as result of the operations. I am one of four people who are being specially studied by the neurologists, because each of the four of us have engaged in activities since the pallidotomy that we didn't do beforehand, which have created some issues in terms of our families or our friends or something like that.

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WINICK: What he means by disinhibition is that he's decided to live the rest of his life as a woman. Was this really a consequence of his brain operation? We may never know. The fact is, it was shortly thereafter that Doug began turning himself into Donna.

Ms. NADEAU: I guess he felt that he had finished - he'd finished his job as a father who needed to keep up an image and decided to let them know the real him. I can't say that it went very well. They were not pleased to learn this about their father. They were not pleased to know that their father had kept a secret from them, something that had mattered so much. And they didn't value that particular secret. Cross-dressing? What a stupid thing to want to do. And I think it was hard for them to see their perfect father, and their image of who he was, so changed.

WINICK: Doug, meanwhile, was going full tilt on the new identity. He joined several transgender groups and began crafting female body parts out of foam pads so he'd look more womanly. Over time, he turned the basement into a workshop of sorts, which Greg said looked like something out of "Silence of the Lambs."

Ms. NADEAU: Greg, I think, felt that his father - he felt that his Donna father was killing his Doug father, and I felt that way, too, of course. I entertained the thought, how long can I go on in this peculiar, crazy life? I felt like I was living in a loony bin.

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Ms. NADEAU: (Crying) When could we touch again and be connected? And those times became more and more infrequent so that, at the end of his life, I hardly felt that we connected at all.

WINICK: The last time I saw Doug Nadeau, he was with Lynn at the Marblehead Festival of Arts in summer 2003. He wore a dress, and people weren't looking with compassion. Sensing this, I walked up to Doug and shook his hand. The words that came out of my mouth were not what I would have said had I thought about it in advance. They came from a good place, but they probably weren't what Doug wanted to hear. I said, how are you, my boy? It still hurts to think about it.

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Ms. NADEAU: I truly, truly respected his desire to be who he wanted to be. So, when I went with him to places and I would meet strangers, I learned to say, hello, my name is Lynn. This is my husband. He has Parkinson's, so it's hard for him to talk, and he likes to be called Donna.

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Ms. NADEAU: As hard as life was, when I think - when people say to me, oh, Lynn, now that Doug's gone - and he was really difficult in the last 18 years - you could date. I would never be interested in being with anybody else. Is that strange? It's strange for me. Doug was my - they use the word beschert. He was my beloved person. As impossible and difficult as he was, that's who he was for me.

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NORRIS: The story of Paul Nadeau was told by Eric Winick. It was produced by Mr. Winick with Jay Allison and Larry Massett. It comes to us from transom.org and hearingvoices.org.

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NORRIS: From washing-machine manufacture to bastion of green business, a town in Iowa adapts to changing economic times. That story coming up on All Things Considered.

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