The first time Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney said “I love you” to his future wife, he had just been handcuffed and was being led off to jail because he rammed a police car during a drunken outburst.
McCartney, then a college student and devout Catholic, had exploded because he heard his date use the Lord’s name in vain. He angrily pulled her from a fraternity party, drove recklessly through town and hit the police car.
And yet his almost daily drinking binges and temper didn’t frighten away Lyndi Taussig - she married him within a year, when she was 19.
Lyndi McCartney, now 54, dutifully supported her husband in the years after their 1962 wedding, even though he spent his nights at a bar instead of at home with their family - three sons and one daughter.
While McCartney’s public image was that of a devoutly religious man and hard-working football coach, privately he was consumed by an addiction to alcohol, explosive temper and obsession with work.
The contradictions continued after the 1991 founding of Promise Keepers, the all-male ministry that instructs members to “practice spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity” and “build strong marriages through love, protection and biblical values.”
The man whose male followers publicly weep over their spiritual failings ended up driving his own partner to depression, bulimia and the brink of suicide.
McCartney, 57, admits in his book due out next month, “Sold Out: Becoming Man Enough to Make a Difference,” that he lived two lives: one in which he appears as a saint and one in which he acts like a tyrant.
“Circumstances seemingly out of my control accentuated gaping discrepancies between who I was portrayed to be and who I was in private,” McCartney wrote. “By the latter definition, I wasn’t a man of integrity.”
Lyndi McCartney endured at first because women of her generation were taught to be subservient, she said.
But when McCartney admitted in 1993 that he had had sex with another woman several decades earlier, she cracked.
The news added to a growing resentment toward a husband who was consumed by his job as coach of the University of Colorado football team and just becoming immersed in the men’s religious movement.
Lyndi McCartney closed herself in her room, refused to speak with anyone on the telephone, accepted no visitors and lost 80 pounds.
“I vomited every day for more than seven months,” she says in the book. “I could no longer cope or function. I went into self-imposed isolation and considered taking my own life. That’s when Bill noticed I was wasting away before his eyes.”
“Having invested her all in our marriage and family for 35 years, she’d come to a horrifying conclusion,” McCartney wrote. “In her mind, our lives together had been a waste. … Mrs. McCartney’s depression was the toxic fallout from a vast legacy of my chronic insensitivity and neglect toward her.”
While Lyndi McCartney speaks freely now about the despair that ultimately forced her to take antidepressants, she still can’t talk about her husband’s affair. “It’s a very sensitive, painful area,” she said.
It’s such a sore subject that the couple chose not to include it in the book, which contains numerous other revealing stories of their troubled 35-year marriage.
“But it’s true. It did happen,” McCartney said in a low voice as he leaned forward and looked down at his clasped hands.
McCartney coached his last game in 1995 and the couple began seeing a counselor, who helped McCartney see how his domineering personality had inflicted heavy damage on his wife and family, he said.
He also came to realize how his behavior had played a part in his daughter Kristyn’s two out-of-wedlock births - both children fathered by football players on the team he coached.
He finally quit alcohol.
“The Lord delivered me from alcohol. I can go virtually anywhere in any company and I don’t have the desire to drink,” he said.
And, while he is still chief of Promise Keepers, he attended only three of the organization’s 19 stadium events this year, he said.
The McCartneys are working on a marriage manual due out next spring, though rebuilding their marriage is a slow process, Lyndi McCartney said.
“We’re still going through it, but it’s more fun now,” she said. “I like the way we deal with each other and I even like the way we fight. We have so much more respect and an honoring way toward each other and we don’t get on each other’s nerves.”