Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
Published by Riverhead Books on May 2, 2017
cw: rape, victim blaming, suicide, pedophilia
The childhood of Patricia Lockwood, the poet dubbed “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas” by The New York Times, was unusual in many respects. There was the location: an impoverished, nuclear waste-riddled area of the American Midwest. There was her mother, a woman who speaks almost entirely in strange koans and warnings of impending danger. Above all, there was her gun-toting, guitar-riffing, frequently semi-naked father, who underwent a religious conversion on a submarine and discovered a loophole which saw him approved for the Catholic priesthood by the future Pope Benedict XVI – despite already having a wife and children.
When the expense of a medical procedure forces the 30-year-old Patricia to move back in with her parents, husband in tow, she must learn to live again with her family’s simmering madness, and to reckon with the dark side of a childhood spent in the bosom of the Catholic Church. Told with the comic sensibility of a brasher, bluer Waugh or Wodehouse, this is at the same time a lyrical and affecting story of how, having ventured into the underworld, we can emerge with our levity and our sense of justice intact.
Let me start this off by saying: this is not a book I would have chosen to read on my own. My extended family is Catholic, but I have never had an interest in religion and this didn’t really appeal to me. However, I am in a postal book club (#5 on this list, if you haven’t heard of this concept) and this was chosen by one of the other members. And, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it a lot!
Lockwood is an incredible writer. She has a unique, lyrical voice and a great sense of humor. This memoir covers a lot of difficult topics with grace. It made me experience emotions that cut me deep, but separated these moments with stories that made me smile and laugh.
How did I become a person who almost never left the house? Until I was twelve, I lived as an element of nature, tending to my untamed Rooms, wading through creeks and waist-high grasses, and bicycling diagonally across vacant lots after the sun had flared down.
Lockwood has a complicated relationship with her family, which I can appreciate. Her father is a conservative Catholic priest, who says and does an infinite number of absurd things. My father is a conservative atheist, who says and does an infinite number of absurd things. Some of the things he says are an insult to me and the things I believe in, but I love him anyway. That’s the way it goes with family sometimes.
You know it took me so long to write this piece because I kept trying to make it beautiful and finally I just had to shake myself by the scruff of the neck until a more natural sort of grunting came out. You can’t make something sound beautiful. It’s either beautiful or it’s not.
As an aspiring writer of sorts, this book was also inspirational for me to read. Every time Lockwood mentioned jotting down a quote from a family member, I yearned to do the same. I struggle with finding things to write about, but I think that’s because I haven’t figured out how to turn my observations into words. Carrying around a notebook like this was something I had heard about but for some reason, actually witnessing the practical applications of this finally flipped the switch for me and I’ve been scribbling things into a moleskine obsessively for the past few days.
Overall, this was a really nice read and I would definitely recommend it to aspiring writers as well as folks who like reading about dysfunctional families. Please let me know if you’ve read this, and what you thought about it, in the comments!