Poet Patricia Lockwood grew up under bizarre circumstances—and with a Catholic priest for a parent. Her family bounced between Midwestern cities during the 1980s and 1990s, as the Moral Majority was rising and the Midwest was gripped by bizarre fears (lightning and child abduction among them). But Lockwood’s new memoir, Priestdaddy, is less an earnest examination of Midwestern religiosity and more a puckish close read of her own family’s complex dynamics.
The memoir’s through line is the nine-month period during which Lockwood and her husband, Jason, lived with her parents after Jason had an unexpected surgery. Over the course of those several months, Lockwood’s first book was published, a seminarian lived with them before being ordained, she went on a road trip with her mother and she experienced other adventures great and small. Each chapter ricochets between the past and present, offering glimpses of her childhood and her eccentric family.
The titular priest and daddy is Greg, a former rebel who fell in love with a Good Catholic, spent some time as a Lutheran minister and then converted to Catholicism himself after receiving dispensation from Pope-to-be Joseph Ratzinger. Greg is far from the stereotypical priest; he lounges in nothing but his underwear; he plays guitar—but just licks rather than songs; he cooks a lot—a lot—of bacon; and he takes a delight in being unabashedly strange. Equally charming is Lockwood’s mother, Karen, a woman who loves a good pun and takes steroids at one point because she might be allergic to her husband, which would “serve him right.” From the earliest pages, it’s clear that this is a duo for the ages.
Lockwood is known for her brash, trickster social media presence, and that’s on full display here. She simply delights in the absurdity in others—and in creating moments of absurdity herself. Her constant harassment of the seminarian is a recurring high point, including when he has just been ordained and is offering her a blessing. “I licked your hand, dude,” Lockwood says, and it’s easy to see why she jokes that she’s just a little demonic. Not in a dangerous way, just in an up-to-no-good way.
But she also proves to be a gifted narrator in chronicling her family’s outlandishness. Lockwood’s lyrical writing juxtaposes the quotidian low (like when her father refuses to go to a Mexican restaurant after learning that his daughter is moving to another state with her internet boyfriend) with the near supernatural high (like meditations on the anti-choice movement’s language). To read Priestdaddy is to witness quiet moments of gorgeous prose give way to stories about Karen hitting a man with a van known as “thegrindup.com” after leaving the house “under cover of darkness.” The beautiful and the filthy, side by side, just as any God with a sense of humor would intend.
Bridey Heing is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. More of her work can be found here.