BookBrowse Reviews Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

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Priestdaddy

A Memoir

by Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood X
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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In her memoir, poet Patricia Lockwood tries to find common ground between her decidedly liberal self and her conservative father, a married Catholic priest.

Patricia Lockwood is a poet and the daughter of Greg Lockwood, a Catholic priest. While Catholic priests are not ordinarily permitted to marry, special permission can be granted by the Pope if a man converts after he has already tied the knot. After a Midwestern childhood immersed in a world of ritual, iconography, and pro-life dogma, Lockwood married at twenty-one and moved South, where she wrote and published her first poetry collection. When her husband suddenly required a costly surgery, the couple moved back in with Lockwood's parents in Kansas City, secular hostages in a Catholic rectory. The result is Priestdaddy – a transcendent memoir about faith, family, foundations, and what it means to have a calling.

When we are introduced to the titular priest, he has just told nineteen-year-old Patricia that he cannot afford to send her to college, despite having recently purchased a guitar once owned by Paul McCartney. Shortly thereafter, while living in an abandoned convent, she met Jason, her future husband, in a poetry chat room, and they fled the Midwest. Their return to the rectory in Kansas City unfolds as a fish out of water story, or perhaps a fish returned to the water from whence it came, interwoven with stories from Lockwood's youth.

She vividly recalls growing up in a house weighty with symbolism and governed by a man of God, "It was hard to be in love there, to experiment with my hair, to put posters on the walls...I lacked the courage or the knowledge to invent a self." In the contemporary timeline, she gets a lot of mileage from playfully teasing an earnest seminarian staying at the family's home with blasphemous jokes, "It's like St. Augustine always said...Oh god, don't make me good, not ever."

Lockwood captures her subjects with crystal clarity. Greg Lockwood is an underwear-clad, action movie and guitar-obsessed, gun-toting Republican who was called to Catholicism by a viewing of The Exorcist on a naval submarine. With a less deft hand, he could have been a caricature, but Lockwood's portrayal is nuanced, and she respects him as a man devoted to service. When tragedy struck in the community, she writes, "he was up and out the door without the smallest sigh or protest, to serve the unthinkable, to read the ritual words to it, to plump the pillow under its head." Lockwood's mother is equally compelling, and as quotable as her daughter. She is ever vigilant of a potential cataclysm, be it in the form of aggressive urban rats hopped up on cigarette butts, or an unsavory stain on a hotel bedspread. Constantly on high alert, and vocal about every concern, Lockwood calls her mother a "human Lassie" and "all mankind is her Timmy."

The absurdist brand of humor that made Lockwood popular on Twitter permeates the memoir. Remarking on her father's distaste for cats, Lockwood writes "He believes them to be Democrats...little mean hillary clintons covered all over with feminist legfur." The foibles of the Church are occasionally played for laughs, notably an ink blot test meant to determine if potential clergy have homosexual tendencies.

The metaphors and connections Lockwood crafts to bind the book thematically are brilliant and subtle. The idea of God as a father figure is prevalent in Western religions, but when one's father is a priest, this idea takes on added significance. Lockwood is something like the prodigal son/daughter from the Biblical parable, being welcomed by her father back into the fold. The family is akin to a church, with its own rituals, shared language, and belief system. But the most compelling of these comparisons helps bridge the gap between Patricia and her father. When Jason ponders why anyone would choose a life in the clergy, Lockwood knows instinctively, "Since the age of six, I have been a poet. 'When you're called, you're called.'" She understands her father's devotion, because she feels a similar passion toward her own craft.

Priestdaddy is a serenity prayer, a ballad of acceptance and grace for what cannot be changed. Lockwood's coming of age has its share of dark verses, and her relationship with her father is complicated, largely due to conflicting ideologies. He is a priest, and a political conservative, she is a non-believer and decidedly liberal. But they share an understanding of reverence that makes them kindred souls. They may serve different higher powers, but the spirit of service is the same.

Reviewed by Lisa Butts

This review was originally published in June 2017, and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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