The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Joe Sinclair and His Daughter
I had the calling from a young age. The first time I heard the voice of God, I was in the backseat of my dad’s Bel-Air, rolling around with Jessica Timmons. Her cheerleading sweater was on the floor of the backseat and I was trying desperately to unhook her bra. Then something caused my hand to shake, staying me. My body went limp and I swear, I felt warmth in my chest and something told me, clearly, that this was not the woman I was meant to have a daughter with, that I was caught in a moment of absolute profanity. I still remember the way the blue moonlight tinged her blond hair and pale white skin: once I could hear the truth, she looked dead in the night’s glow. And she was, really: her skin would be nothing but ash and fire soon enough.
I tried to explain to her what was going on, what I was hearing, but she didn’t understand. Pulled her wrist out of my grasp, gathered her clothes. I remember her slapping me, but that could be time messing with the memory. I do remember her walking away, sweater crumpled in front of her naked body, streetlights flickering as she grew small in the distance.
She told everyone at school I was crazy—not just weird-crazy. Hears voices crazy. I couldn’t fault her. Prophecy is hard to understand. I hated that Jessica didn’t get it, but it was a blessing. She was proving the voice right. If she had accepted my words, honored and obeyed, and loved me anyway, I’d have had to question whether or not it was really God talking. But she didn’t. God was right. God’s always right. I didn’t care what Jess said, or the other students, or even the counselors.
I knew that night that I was meant to have a daughter and that she would be the gleaming treasure of my life. I would have to protect her from everyone and everything else—even myself. My classmates were all worried about college or the war, but I knew that those things would pass and fade away. It was the late ‘60s, long before the modern courtship movement begged teens to ‘kiss dating goodbye’ and court a mate, but again, I was tuned in: I knew what God wanted. The summer of my senior year, I began to court Winnie, the girl who lived down the street. She was a few years younger, but that didn’t matter—when God knows you’re ready for the responsibility of commitment, He reveals the path, and he lit up the concrete between our houses. Our parents were church friends, so we’d meet for weekly Sunday lunches, talking about the sermon, and eventually, going on walks around the neighborhood. I never even asked to hold her hand. By the time I graduated high school, I asked her father for her hand in marriage. She said yes later that month one Sunday afternoon, sitting in my parents’ garden out behind the house. She had freckles and light brown hair; she was pretty, but not angular like Jessica Timmons. Her eyes filled with tears almost immediately and she started shaking. She almost looked angry.
“Joseph,” she said, “I had no idea you intended to date me, let alone marry me. I’m fifteen,” she said, and it sounded like a plea.
“Your soul is older than that. I know we’re meant to be together.”
“I want to finish high school,” she said. My mother’s clematis crawled up the house, and Winnie was so still and so quiet that I could almost hear the buds opening. The faint smell of them caught a breeze and floated around Winnie’s head—a halo of scent.
“Whatever you want. But there’s no reason you can’t do that as my bride.”
Then she teared up and hugged me. She tried to kiss me, but I put one finger on her soft lips. So soft, so plush. I would enjoy her, and I knew it—but I wouldn’t allow that thought to distract me. “In time,” I said. “Let’s honor the Lord, let’s wait until we’re married.”
“I feel so safe with you,” she said. I went down on one knee and proposed like a real man, and her eyes twinkled with none of the reservations or fears that come with age. I knew it was good.
“Why marriage? Why not just a date?” she asked.
Then I explained to her I didn’t date, that I’d been courting her because I knew God wanted her to be my wife. (I didn’t mention that the voice was explicit and clear until after we’d been married for some time; I’d learned something from my previous experience.)
When we told that story to our beautiful daughter as a child, she’d laugh and laugh. Winnie had apparently pined all school year, drawing hearts on her notebook and writing my last name all over it—waiting for me to ask her on a date. “Of course I said yes,” she says when she tells the story. She smiles a tight, satisfied smile. Her face still looks young—gaining weight does that, stretches the skin so you can’t see wrinkles. But her eyes, now, are full of reservations and anxiety. She has not remained unstained by the world.
“And then I came along,” Amanda would say, her small voice so clear and pure even when she spoke that I could hear she was meant for something great.
“And then you came along, princess,” I’d say and pat my leg, inviting her to come sit on my lap for a while, her sweet form like an angel sent from God.
The first time Amanda sang onstage, she was in a children’s beauty pageant. The talent portion of the competition had been underwhelming to say the least; four-year-olds trying to twirl batons and ultimately hurling them towards the judges, five-year-olds trying to dance but clearly making it up as they went along. Not Mandy. She came out to the center of the stage, her blond curls teased up around her face, and reached up to take the microphone from the stand. Even at five, she knew to hold the microphone out so that she didn’t scrape her bright pink lipstick off. I wasn’t sure, at first, about all the makeup she had to wear in the pageant, but in that moment, I knew I was doing the right thing. Winnie was wrong: my little Mandy was meant for the stage.
She started kind of whispered and hushed, but I knew that was part of the routine. Her perfect heart-shaped face looked straight into the eyes of the audience and declared, “The sun will come out, tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun.” By the end of the song, she was belting perfectly, like she was on Broadway, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you’re only a day away.”
My little mockingbird sang, and God smiled on her. She won that pageant and all the others, but it wasn’t about winning. It was about the world getting to see our glorious Creator through the light of my little girl, the precious gift he’d given me—given everyone—for my faithfulness.
Winnie sometimes wondered if I was being humble enough: if God would really want me to be so proud of Amanda, if he would want me to show her off. I’d just remind her that I had the gift, that I knew how to listen for the voice of God, and that he wanted this.
I gave Mandy everything I could. When she outgrew Rockwall, the little suburb we’d always lived in, we moved into Dallas proper. I put so much time into nurturing Mandy that my career was moving almost without my input—I’d gone from being a youth pastor to a teaching pastor to the lead pastor of a huge evangelical church. The building itself was a blessing: a big white room filled with pews and chairs in the back of the auditorium for when the pews were full. Behind the stage, a towering stained-glass Jesus looked down on us, his hands open to reveal stigmata. In the middle of the auditorium stood a giant cross, draped year-round with royal purple silk. The ceiling was glass and the room was clear and bright and open, ready to receive those blessings the Lord meant for the faithful.
Of course, Mandy was the real star of the church—singing up on that big stage, arms raised, palms towards the ceiling. She sang worship songs, she sang contemporary songs. By the time she was fifteen, she was singing things she’d written herself.
The first time she performed original music, I remember her sitting on the edge of the stage before the auditorium opened. “Daddy, I’m nervous,” she said, fidgeting with her gold-plated cross necklace.
I rubbed her back and she rubbed her wrists, like I do. “You’re going to be fine, princess. You’re already loved. You can’t mess that up.”
She sighed—she had a funny way of tilting her head so that you knew she wasn’t buying it, but couldn’t call her on her defiance. “All right,” she said.
She was wearing tight white jeans and a silky white cropped tank top, something her mother had protested as we left the house as being ‘not church appropriate.’ I reminded her that God made the clothes, and that if Mandy wanted to ever be a pop star, she’d have to start looking the part, not just sounding it. Mandy rolled her eyes—something she did more and more commonly—and pulled the shirt down a little to appease her mother.
“It’s fine, Mom. Really. Everyone at school is wearing them like this.”
“Not everyone at school is a pastor’s daughter. You need to hold her to a higher standard, Joe.”
I laughed—there’s no higher standard than the one I hold Mandy to. Looking at her objectively, she was hot— she looked much older than her young fifteen years. She had polished lip gloss on, glittery pink eyeshadow—everything in place. She looked great. “Come on, honey,” I said to Mandy. Winnie shook her head. I knew she wouldn’t be at church later. The lines around her pillowy lips seemed to pull them downwards in a permanent frown.
Of course the performance went well, I knew it would. But it went better than well, and thank God that I had the divine foresight to know that morning was important. That morning, a producer sat in the balcony. He was new to the church, but was blown away by my little girl. Mandy sang a loud and clear verse about the dangers of relationships not based on God,.“Say you love me again,” she pled with a power unseen to her. Her rendition of “Unbreak My Heart” gave the producer chills, he said later.
I wasn’t even surprised the first time she was asked to play Letterman. I wasn’t. I knew it would happen. I’d known from the beginning what she was capable of—I’d known her since she was in the womb. She was special.
Of course, Mandy had a hard time with the rise to fame. That’s human. It’s natural to have a hard time. It went against her natural humility. That Letterman show came a few months before her record was going to come out, but right after the single, “Only For You,” started charting.
“Please welcome to the stage, Mandy Sinclair!” Dave announced and the cameras panned to my baby girl. She looked like a woman, now.
“It’s so hard to save myself, but I can’t save anybody else,” she crooned. It was perfect. I watched and closed my eyes, took myself back to early memories, back to the garden with Winnie, back to the car with Jessica Timmons… I wondered if she was watching now. At the end of the song, Mandy smiled and waved to the crowd. She looked overwhelmed with joy, and so excited, but when the camera clicked off, her face changed.
“Dad, that was awful,” she said.
“Oh, sweetheart, what do you mean? You sounded great.”
“I sounded fantastic.” She turned to Dave and a few techs who were running around. “I couldn’t hear through the monitor. Everything was fuzzy and pitchy. Don’t you guys do this every night?”
“Mandy!” I said, shocked.
“It’s true,” she said. She walked back to the greenroom, long, blond hair swishing over the small of her back.
“I’m sorry guys. She gets nervous after shows,” I said.
One of the techs laughed and said, “She’d do better to get nervous before. Any fuzz or pitch problems were hers.”
I burned with rage, but I knew I couldn’t show it. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes again. “She’s only fifteen,” I said.
I heard a tech across the room say, “This is why fifteen year olds shouldn’t be famous.” That made me smile: I knew we were on our way. The record hadn’t even come out yet and she was already famous.
There were a few times I heard God speak and I ignored Him, but I always regretted them later. Once, He told me that I needed to divorce Winnie—that she was holding me back. Holding Mandy back! But I ignored Him. What good father takes a little girl away from her mother? But by the time Winnie left me, Mandy wasn’t a little girl anymore—she was a fully-formed woman.
I didn’t want that. I wouldn’t sign the papers, nothing. But Winnie didn’t even ask—she had me served while I was out on the road with Mandy, and when I got home, she’d already moved out into a small two-bedroom apartment. She said she didn’t want any money—she wanted custody, but I’d be damned if she got that. Of course, she told the courts that I talked to God, knowing they’d think I was crazy.
“How long has he told you he’s heard the voice of God, Ms. Sinclair?” my lawyer asked her. She looked fat and tired—and old. She was only 32—how could she be but 17 years older than our daughter?— but I still loved the woman I remembered her to be. Watching her that day, it was almost impossible to recall what it felt like to be her husband, what it felt like to curl my body around that body at night. I sat with my arms crossed, palms around the inside of my wrists.
“He’s always heard the voice of God. That’s what made him propose.”
“So you never thought it was a problem until you decided to blindside him with this divorce and take his daughter away?”
“And where has your daughter been this past year?”
“She’s been out on the road with Joe—”
“Without you? You let some voice-hearing psychopath take your daughter out of school and travel around the country?”
“She’s a singer—”
“So you don’t really have a problem with her being with Joe—at least not because he hears voices. You’ve always known about the voices, haven’t you?”
She slumped a little on the stand, but immediately caught herself and straightened her back. That was one thing Winnie was always good at—knowing when to put on a good face. It’s why she’d been such a good preacher’s wife. The whole thing moved so fast, but only for a minute: then the judge slowed it down.
“I think we need to postpone this until you’ve both had psych evals,” he said. “Ms. Sinclair, you’re making very big accusations about sanity—if you’re right, they could impact custody. If you’re wrong, it would still have an impact. We’ll investigate for parental alienation,” he said. I smiled. I knew I was sane. God had saved me once again.
“Mr. Sinclair, will you agree to a psych eval?”
“Of course, Your Honor,” I said, inwardly cringing at calling any mere man ‘honor,’ but knowing that I had to play the game. I had to keep Mandy with me.
“One final word of warning to you both,” the judge began. “Mandy is old enough and makes more than enough money to be emancipated. If you can’t play nice and act in her best interest, I’ll grant it. Do you understand me?” I nodded and looked at Winnie; she was crying, but nodding as well. Of course, I didn’t feel sorry for her: she brought this on herself.
Mandy was, of course, devastated. She cried for hours while I stroked her hair backstage at some gig in Santa Monica. There were ropes and pulleys and wires all over the floors and walls; tape was down on the stage to direct crews on instrument placement. It was surreal to be having a normal teenage moment in this setting. “It’ll be all right honey,” I said.
“How? I was looking forward to going home, and now I don’t have a home to go to,” she said.
“You’re always home when you’re with me,” I said, but I knew that meant the right thing to do was to stay on the road, keep making TV appearances. She’d gotten an opening gig for some boy band, but I was trying to get her a headlining show—I didn’t like the way their lead singer looked at her backstage, to be honest. And I didn’t think she should be the opener. She was so much more talented than they were. I could tell by the audience’s reaction every night that they agreed.
Of course the whole divorce scared me, too—I’d been fighting psych evals since I was a teenager. Jessica Timmons had reported me to the counselor, and I’d been unable to shake the stigma of mental illness ever since. I didn’t spend much time in a therapist’s office—the voice of God hardly seems like a problem to me—but several therapists had wanted to put me on drugs to make the voice go away. Drugs to eliminate prophecy? I couldn’t let that happen.
“Dad, who am I going to live with?”
“The judge is supposed to decide,” I said. “But I’m fighting for you.”
“I don’t want you guys to fight anymore.”
She looked exhausted—she’d lost so much weight on the road, partially due to the exercise regimen, partially due to the stress—and said, “Daddy, I want to go home.”
I’m not really proud of what happened next, but understand, we were both under tremendous pressure—but I slapped her across the face. Hard. I had lip gloss and foundation on my palm when I pulled it back. “You listen to me,” I said. “When I was your age, I was working in a factory downtown. I was trying to figure out a way to get your mother to marry me. I did not work my whole life preparing for your arrival for you to throw it away now, do you understand me? I did not walk away from my flock for you to come this close and give up.”
She nodded, eyes glassy with tears. I wondered if I had been handling her all wrong: she was a much more obedient girl right now than she’d been with Letterman and his crew.
“I’m tired of you embarrassing me with your attitude. You want to be famous? You have to put in the work. It doesn’t matter that you’re fifteen—there are thousands of young girls lined up behind you, ready and willing to step up and take your place. You’ve been given this gift by God.”
Her face, it was so strange. She shook her head ‘no’ but there was no affect at all. I smoothed her hair back behind her ears and pulled her close to me, kissed her forehead. I could feel the warmth radiating off her cheek, and for just a second, I felt horrible—until I remembered that her journey isn’t about me feeling good, it’s about her bringing honor to our Lord. I released her and rubbed the inside of my wrists, hard.
“I love you, princess.”
“I love you, daddy,” she said. I looked up to see Jaxon, the lead singer of the other group, watching from an alcove by the stage.
After that, Mandy operated robotically—she performed every night, smiled and waved, and then she’d come backstage with a headache, ready for bed. I knew she was depressed—she had to be. I wanted to spend more time with her, but as sick as she was, it made more sense to just give her some space. I had the upcoming psych eval to worry about, anyway.
I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in years—since before Mandy was born—but a few weeks after that blowout, I went to the 7-11 somewhere outside the auditorium in Anaheim and bought a pack. I rolled them between my fingers to get the sweet nicotine smell all over them before lighting it. I sat on the hood of my car in the parking lot, remembering. The smoke brought me back to the first time I’d been on psychiatric drugs, early in my marriage. I had spent months going back and forth about how to tell Winnie that I was a conduit for the voice of God, but deep down, I knew Winnie wouldn’t understand the voices. I saw a doctor and went on Haldol. That’s when I took up smoking. Once God was gone, I couldn’t feel anything: I was a void. The smoke would fill my lungs so I could feel them working, but other than that, I didn’t know I was alive at all.
“Please, Joe, what’s wrong?” Winnie would ask. I could see that she was crying, but I couldn’t feel anything about it; I just watched her with curiosity.
“I’m going to bed.”
That was all I could do. Being awake was like being asleep; I couldn’t even tell it apart sometimes. And then finally, I woke up in the bathroom to Winnie’s screams—
“Oh, Jesus, please, Joe—“
I tried to tell her not to worry but I couldn’t move my mouth—
“Please come back,” she cried, “come back.”
Blood ran like tree branches down my arms to my elbow. I was in the bathtub. I didn’t remember getting in or making decisions—
“Jesus, please,” she cried.
“I used to hear God, but I don’t anymore,” I said.
I remembered saying that. I could still feel the way my lips wrapped around those words, the death and the hopelessness in them. In the hospital, Winnie snuck me cigarettes, but they didn’t work anymore: I was using them just to keep my lungs functioning. I guess I didn’t care if they worked anymore.
“You have to go off the medicine,” she said. “I would have never wanted you to go on something that changed you,” she said.
It’s all like a fever dream now, though. I couldn’t even think about it before—the cigarette brought it all back. I smoked the whole pack, worried that if I didn’t go on the drugs, I wouldn’t be able to save Mandy from her mother. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to save her from me. I couldn’t lie—but I couldn’t tell the truth. “What do you want from me?” I yelled at the sky, even though I knew He only spoke when He found it necessary.
By the time I got back to the hotel, it was nearly dawn. The concert had ended around 11, and Mandy went to bed right afterwards. I’d wandered around the streets, a prophet in the ghetto. Suddenly, that infuriated me—sure, God had plenty to say when it was about his own Glory, but faithful Joe Sinclair needs something, and all of the sudden, He’s silent.
When I got back to the hotel, I heard a loud thrumming noise coming from the hallway by the desk. Around the corner was a bar, all lit with neon and blue TV light. It was a strange purple and blue environment, and it was as if I could see nothing but the sad husks of the people who were sitting in there. Old women hitting on older men; young people in tight fitting clothes who were pretending they had drunk more than they had; and, somewhat unsurprisingly in the back of the bar, my Mandy in a white miniskirt. I watched her for a moment—she was sitting on the corner of a pool table, one leg propped up so the man she was talking to could almost certainly see her underwear. I was detached: I was watching her like it was a movie. She seemed to have him on a literal string, his eyes rising and falling as she moved her hands.
“Yes, that Mandy Sinclair,” she said, and then she laughed in a high-pitched tone I’d never heard come from her mouth. It struck me suddenly that she was of me, but she was not me: we were completely different people, and no matter how much time and effort I had put into her, nothing could keep us bound together. What’s the harm, a voice said, seemingly from nowhere. Let her go. Have a drink. I walked to the bar almost as if it were pre-ordained, a move I made without making. I took one last look at Mandy and saw that she was leaning over, her breasts peeking out under her neckline. She looked up and giggled coyly, and the man touched her face. Her face! But she nodded, smiled. I knew what would happen between them, and suddenly, I knew it had been happening all along.
She’s not the One, the voice seemed to say. You did your best.
The taste of nicotine and poison still rolling around my tongue, I ordered whiskey and sat, staring straight forward, trying to hear everything God might have to say to me.
It took a few moments before I realized that the words were outside my head. A woman sat next to me. She was in a white blouse, buttoned up all the way to her neck, and a skin-tight black skirt that got tighter as it reached her knees. She was wearing too much makeup, even for the dim lighting of the bar. “You look lonely,” she said.
“You’re never lonely when you’ve got the Lord with you,” I said, and I gently tipped the whiskey glass into my mouth. It burned, and I was grateful for it. The pain seemed to tie me to the barstool, to the earth itself.
She laughed, and it was thin. She had a beautiful face, but it was already marked with worry lines and wrinkles between her eyebrows. “Cute,” she said. “That your thing? That how you pick up women?”
I held up my left hand to show her that I was not hitting on her—to ward her off with my wedding ring.
“I know. I checked to make sure you weren’t married before I came over here.”
I looked down at the stark white skin that had been covered for so many years. Protected from this. I turned to the back of the bar—and Mandy was gone. Not just away from the bar, but away from me—away from God. She had never been the gift I thought she was, or she wouldn’t be whoring around a hotel bar. At fifteen! Her mother was already engaged at that age.
“You seem familiar to me,” she said.
“I’m Joe Sinclair. Mandy Sinclair’s father.”
She nodded. “No, that’s not it. I wonder—are you the preacher from that church in Dallas? My parents go there,” she said. “Covenant?”
I nodded. “That’s it,” I said. “I am.” I shook her hand. “Can I buy you something?”
She smiled, and I saw in her the same mannerisms I had seen in Mandy just a few moments ago.
From her, they didn’t seem so predatory. Almost—subservient. Almost loving.
Maybe this one. Maybe with this woman, the voice said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I’m Sarah,” she said.
I copied the man who had been with Mandy. I touched the side of her cheek, brushed some hair behind her ear. It was raven black, shiny. Almost blue, but somehow, lifelike, like the ocean, like the sky. “That means Princess,” I said. She’s young enough. She could bear children. The voice was getting louder, and I had to fight not to repeat the words I was hearing.
She nodded. “That’s what my dad always used to say,” she said. To the bartender, she said, “I’d like a glass of chardonnay.”
“So are you from Dallas?”
“Originally. I live in Portland, now. I’m a pharmaceutical rep.”
She could stay home with you. You could start over in Portland. It’s what Mandy wants. It’s what she needs.
I tried to take another sip of whiskey, but nothing was coming. I realized that in the five minutes Sarah had been sitting next to me, I’d swallowed the whole glass. Nervous tic. The drink and the smoke were combining to make me feel sort of dizzy. The voice, so discombobulated. So many things were happening at the same time. She touched my arm, was telling me something about her family.
“Do you want to have children?” I asked, and the voice said, Slow down. She will bear them for you. “How many children?”
She recoiled: like a snake, she seemed to slink backwards, vertebrae stacking straight up, away from me. She laughed, but she was stunned. And then the voice got louder—
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ—
“Romans 10:17,” I muttered.
“I’m sorry?” she asked.
I looked around the bar. People were starting to put down their drinks and stare.
Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God—
“John 10:47!” I screamed. “You really can’t hear that?” Now I was standing and I could feel my heart beating faster. For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream— “In a vision of the night! When deep sleep falls upon men! John 33:14!” The bartender had a phone in his hand, and I could see the man who had been behind the desk in the lobby walking down the hall, quickly. You can’t tell Truth in a bar.
Sarah looked horrified, and I was glad. I wanted her to feel the white-hot truth, and then, only then, would she be the one who would bring me out of this filthy world, who would help me raise a daughter who would be Godly, like me. I looked around the bar, and saw no one follow as I was led out by a uniformed man who patted me on the shoulder, said I should sleep it off. He left me at the elevator, expecting me to find my room and floor. “If you really thought I was so dangerous,” I shouted, “You would follow me to my room. You wouldn’t leave me here.”
Alone, I walked back to my room—but then, Jesus didn’t have many followers at first. Mandy was a mistake. But I have time—and I will never, never quiet God again.