“Woke up this morning, heard the words to your song/Never meant to hurt you, but know where I went wrong …”
Michael Lohan was singing me a song he wrote for his daughter Lindsay during his most recent stay in prison. It was the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 12, and we were sitting in a black Ford Explorer in the sun-drenched parking lot of Belmont Park in Long Island.
Mr. Lohan’s ballad was titled “A Father’s Love.” He had popped in a CD recording of the song—replete with 80’s keyboard backup—and was singing along softly. He said he had written the song in response to Lindsay’s song, “Confessions of Broken Heart,” which he interprets to have been written to him.
He wore a faded blue T-shirt—sleeves cut off, exposing a tattoo of a celtic cross emblazoned with the names of his children—and jeans. His sparse hair was gelled back. A resemblance to his actress daughter—who recently entered a rehab facility for the third time this year—was apparent in his eyes and freckly complexion.
The song continued: “Raised you to understand all the good in life, somehow I lost my way, should have taken my advice.”
Outside a picnic—hosted by the faith-based sobriety program Teen Challenge—was getting under way. While in prison, along with singing and songwriting, Mr. Lohan took Teen Challenge correspondence courses. Since his release in March, he has been a resident of a Teen Challenge center in West Babylon, L.I., and is in training to become a minister, though to be ordained he’ll have to wait until he’s off parole. Mr. Lohan cocked his head back in anticipation of the song’s chorus and crooned, “I love you so much, just one chance to make it up, cause—a father’s love will never die.”
Earlier that morning we had been in church.
“Freedom does not come easy—amen,” Pastor Jimmy Jack said from the pulpit, wrapping up his service at the Freedom Chapel, a small, nondescript church on the side of a highway in Amityville.
“Freedom does not come easy,” the pastor repeated.
“No, it doesn’t,” intoned Mr.Lohan. For church, he had worn black slacks and a yellow button-down shirt. He was one of 40 or so congregants standing before the stage, his palms raised toward the ceiling. The father of the embattled 21-year-old actress—who the country has watched chase death at the wheel of her Mercedes this summer—nodded knowingly at the man standing next to him, then reached down and took a Kleenex from a handy communal box and damped his eyes.
A synthesizer began to play. The day’s message was projected in white cursive against a purple backdrop on a hanging screen: “Freedom to find yourself in Christ.” The pastor—tall, broad, bronzed and mustachioed, wearing a tan polyester leisure suit—said he hoped to see everyone at the picnic.
Both Teen Challenge’s West Babylon center and the Freedom Chapel were founded by Mr. Jack—“Pastor Jimmy” to those who know him—who has spent the past three months mentoring Mr. Lohan. The two men invited me on an exclusive tour of Mr. Lohan’s current home, before heading over to the family picnic.
“Here’s the dining hall where we have breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Mr. Lohan, gesturing to a dimly lit, cramped room with a long table and chairs stacked atop it, as he made his way through a no-frills boarding house. Upstairs, he noted that his floor is currently under construction, as we passed an area of unfinished plywood frames en route to his room. “This my room,” he said. He was standing between two twin beds in a room that resembled a college dorm. A pastel drawing of what looked like an angel rested on his head board.
“And this is Orlando,” he said, introducing me to his roommate.
In the yard outside his dorm, Mr. Lohan, 47, explained how he viewed his current situation. “It’s like Corinthians 5:17, ‘When the Lord Jesus Christ comes into your life, the old is passed and the new is upon you,’” he said.
“It says therefore if any man is in Christ, he’s a new creation,” said Pastor Jimmy, who sat nearby. “‘All things pass away, behold, all things become new.’ That’s kind of like our theme scripture.”
Pastor Jimmy himself graduated from the Brooklyn Teen Challenge program more than 20 years ago, before founding Long Island Teen Challenge in 1989.
“It’s the same thing as in Luke 9:24,” said Mr. Lohan. “‘If you want to be saved—if a man wants to save his life, a man has to lose his life.’ And, basically, that’s what happened to me, I lost my life when I hit that pole, and I found a new life,” he said, referring to the car accident on Feb. 23, 2005, which led to his incarceration for driving under the influence, among other things.
The pastor clearly sees an able protégé in Mr. Lohan. The two, along with the actor Stephen Baldwin—a recovered addict turned Christian—are planning a Christian radio show. And in September, the three men are joining forces on a new Teen Challenge center in Southampton, which will be called the Sanctuary.
On the drive to Belmont Park, Mr. Lohan explained—to borrow the title of the biography he’s currently shopping—“How It All Went Down.”
He grew up in Cold Spring Harbor, the posh hamlet in Suffolk County where John Lennon spent much of his time from the mid-1970’s up to his death.
“My grandfather owned the largest spaghetti company in the world at one time,” said Mr. Lohan, referring to his maternal family’s involvement in Prince Spaghetti and DeBoles Macaroni. Nonetheless: “We worked at the age of 15. We got our due when we worked. I was raised in a Catholic household, they were very good people.” Mr. Lohan stipulated that his father was an alcoholic, but said no one else in his family drank. “Everyone in my family are pillars of the Cold Spring Harbor community,” he said, drawing a distinction between his pedigree and that of his wife, Dina.
“Her brother Paul, the middle one, is going to jail for 9/11 fraud,” he said. “For a million-dollar 9/11 fraud.”
“Jesus,” I blurted and quickly apologized.
“No, that’s okay,” said Pastor Jimmy, who was sitting in the driver’s seat. “He needs Jesus.”
Mr. Lohan came around to how he first ran afoul of the law. At the age of 20, after chasing his dream to be an actor, he took a job on Wall Street.
“I was the youngest trader on the floor of the commodity exchange,” he said. “And by the time I was 25 I had four seats on the exchange.”
He owned a Ferrari 308 GTSI inspired by Magnum, P.I., which he said he drove off a 26-foot cliff in Massachusetts; he suffered only a concussion. And yes, he did some blow on weekends; it was the 80’s.
In December 1984, he met Dina, who was working as a salesperson at the Bloomingdale’s cosmetics department. On November 2, 1985, they married and started a family.
In 1990, when Lindsay was five years old, Mr. Lohan was investigated for insider trading and convicted of criminal contempt of court because, he said, he wouldn’t testify about the trading of other brokers. He was sentenced to three years in Nassau County jail. In 1993 he was released on five years probation. He cherished the time with the kids, he says.
“I read the Bible to the kids every day,” he said, “and we’d pray on the way to school every morning. I had a Lotus, and Michael and Lindsay would cram in the front seat, sit on each other’s lap with the seat belt on, and we would pray. And they were only in junior high school.”
But he wasn’t done with prison. His daughter’s acting career began taking her around the country, and Mr. Lohan found himself behind bars again in 1997—he had violated his parole to visit Lindsay in Los Angeles after she had been hospitalized with asthma. The trip cost the concerned father another year away from his family.
From 1998 to 2005, Mr. Lohan was a free man. His daughter’s career was flourishing, but his marriage to Dina was not. Mr. Lohan said that his daughter’s success, which had been solidified with Freaky Friday, attracted hangers-on to the Lindsay gravy train, including members of Dina’s family. He is convinced that his wife’s friends and family conspired to split the couple apart, especially after he voiced concern that Lindsay affairs should be handled by professionals, not family.
Long story short: Tension between Mr. Lohan and his wife’s family came to a head when Mr. Lohan and Dina’s youngest brother, Matt Sullivan, got into a fistfight outside Mr. Lohan’s Long Island home, during a communion party for Mr. Lohan’s son, Dakota.
Mr. Lohan was charged with attempted assault. He says he was defending himself. While awaiting sentencing, he had the aforementioned vehicular run-in with the pole. He was charged with driving while intoxicated and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
He says his third trip to the clink was the hardest. His daughter’s new role as America’s favorite girl-gone-wild was a difficult burden to bear. On prison bulletin boards, inmates would tack up sultry pictures of Lindsay from Maxim magazine, or whatever they could get their hands on, and write nasty words like “bitch,” “slut,” “whore” and “drunk whore.”
One inmate even tried to put glass in his food, he said.
It was a tough stretch. Yet, he’s quick to point out, it was during this time in the joint that he found what gives him so much peace and joy today.
“I’m in Nassau County jail,” Mr. Lohan recalled. “I’m walking in the dorm—I walked about three miles a day in the dorm, like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or something—so I come back to my bunk and there’s a number on my bunk and it says ‘Teen Challenge’ on it. And I look at it and I’m like, ‘What’s this Teen Challenge thing?’ And I called my attorney and I’m told to call the number, and I called the number and found out it was a faith-based rehabilitation program.”
He recalled the day in jail when he was reborn. “I was in the middle of the dorm, and everyone is looking at Michael Lohan, on his knees, crying, and I accepted the Lord. And from that point on, Teen Challenge became the focus of my life.”
Mr. Lohan began corresponding daily with Pastor Jimmy, who installed a special phone in his house for him to call collect on.
“What Mike is experiencing is what we call the transformation,” said the pastor. Before leaving us for the picnic, he cited Romans Chapter 12. “‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might know the perfect and acceptable will of God,’” he said. “And the word transformed in Greek means metamorphosis, and that is what he is experiencing. The metamorphosis, where the caterpillar—who’s very limited—becomes a butterfly. It’s the heart and the nature. And that’s what born again really means: regeneration.” Mr. Lohan said that as a butterfly, he hopes to spread freedom through Christ.
Later that afternoon, seated at one of the picnic tables, he spoke of another caterpillar that was poised to become an even bigger, more splendid butterfly—his daughter.
“Can you imagine—Pastor Jimmy keeps telling me this—‘Mike, can you imagine if Lindsay or Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie, or all of them, or one of them—especially Lindsay—turned it all around?’ Lindsay’s example could be the greatest sermon to millions of people across the world. A story of redemption, a real Cinderella story.”
Does he think she’ll come through her current troubles?
“Absolutely,” he said. “And how many lives would she affect? And what does it say about just one lost sheep coming to the Lord?” he asked of Pastor Jimmy, who was sitting nearby. “How many angels rejoice in heaven?”
“A host, it says,” said the pastor.
Mr. Lohan declined to comment on what, if any, communication he has had with Lindsay since she entered rehab. The two have been estranged for some time, but Mr. Lohan did say there’s been progress in recent days.
“If I did tell you, it would ruin any future contact with my daughter,” he said. “My contact and communication with Lindsay, I don’t find it necessary to make public.”
He said that it has been particularly hard to watch from afar as his daughter battled demons he knows so well.
“All these people who don’t know what she’s going through are trying to help her,” he said. “It’s hard to help someone get through something, unless you been through it yourself. These young kids from Promises, which is a fine program, but I don’t think they know what she’s going through. I’ve been there.
“You know what hurt the most?” he added. “I wanted to be there for her, and everyone who caused the division in our family kept me away; they were afraid that, because I’ve come back to be the person the Lord wants me to be and that everyone loves, that if I become a part of Lindsay’s life and it turns around, everbody is going to say, ‘She just she needed a father all along.’”
Mr. Lohan and his estranged wife, Dina, are reportedly near a divorce settlement, which has been delayed in part by Mr. Lohan’s being in jail. As the two exited the Mineola courthouse on Friday, Aug. 10, lawyers told reporters that it was a matter of “minor points.”
Mr. Lohan said he had only one sticking point. In the closed-door meeting that Friday, he said, he put it to Dina this way:
“I said, ‘Look in my eyes and tell me what you want.’ And she told me what she wanted. And I said, ‘Fine. Whatever you want.’ All I asked was to see the kids once a week, with Dina’s brother, Chris, or Pastor Jimmy, or both, and to have access to all my kid’s sports—to watch them. And I asked for one thing: To keep Jim McMillan out of my kids’ lives. But that’s the turning point. If you can’t agree to that, it’s dead.”
Mr. Lohan does not like his soon-to-be ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Mr. McMillan.
He has also dropped his request to have Dina drug-tested, he said, for the sake of his children. He says he’s interested in forgiveness and taking responsibility for his mistakes.
That said, Mr. Lohan does not accept blame for certain things.
Does he feel responsible for forcing his famous daughter into the limelight at a young age (she began doing commercial work at three)?
“Lindsay was never put into anything, Lindsay wanted to do it.”
In fact, he said, he’s had the solution all along.
“At the beginning of the things, I suggested a reality show called Living With the Lohans: Over or Starting Over?” he said. “When Dina served me the divorce papers, I said instead of going trial, why don’t we work this out in an amicable way—just show everyone we could end it the right way, and/or start over the right way. There would have been cameras on us the whole time. It would have guided us in the right way.”
Mr. Lohan thinks such a show would not only be a smash hit—now more than ever—he thinks it might be the only way to restore what once was.
“When we were a family, no matter what we were up against we stuck by each other and we overcame,” he said. “But then people came between us and everything has fallen apart. Right now, I look at things and I pray.”
“It’s a daily thing,” he’d said earlier, of the negative news reports that have haunted him and his family for the past several months. He produced a recent issue of InTouch magazine that included claims by a former bodyguard that Lindsay had been drunk at her 16th birthday party. Mr. Lohan vigorously refuted the accusation.
“It’s a horrible thing that people would live off people’s misery,” he said. “Wouldn’t the world be a different place if people wrote about all the good things people do?”