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Book Review: Priest Daddy

Patricia Lockwood’s 350-page memoir Priestdaddy is a mix of beautiful images and raucous humor that mingle to shed light on some of society’s darkest vexations: child sex abuse within the Catholic church, racial divide, environmental disregard and violence against women.

Lockwood and her husband are forced to move back to the rectory (where her father, an actual Catholic Father, resides) because of her husband’s vast medical bills. In the rectory we meet Lockwood’s cast of characters. Her mother, an anxious, car wrecking, lasagna making, crèche-obsessed oddity—the wife of a priest. The Seminarian, an over zealous Italian priest-in-waiting apt to pontificate on his “celibate powers.” And, Father Lockwood, an almost unbelievably crass, bacon devouring, bass guitar playing, gun wielding priest who parades about the house in his underwear.

Lockwood revels in her role as the naughty heretic. (In her imagination Jesus wants a gun, gets regular perms and has a tattoo of a daisy on his lower back.) The author takes many risks in the name of blasphemy. Her joy, blatant, as she mocks everything—from nativity scenes to abortion rallies—that her father holds sacred.

In between guffaws the reader is whisked away to a more contemplative realm. Lockwood reminds us that institutions too often do too little to protect the individuals in it. Instead, she says, they “protect their own shape.” “The question, for someone who was raised in a closed circle and then leaves it, is what is the us, and what is the them, and how do you ever move from one to the other?”

While there are many delightful qualities in this book, I found myself wanting more to develop between Lockwood and her dad. In the beginning of the book we learn Patricia is now a proud atheist or “from the devil.” As they live under one roof, the reader expects conflict between them, but that tension never materializes.

The Father/father figure appears not to care that his daughter rejects every aspect of his life’s work while the daughter seems accepting of his life of contradictions. However the reader, privy to her thoughts, knows better. If acceptance of opposing viewpoints was the theme, the author missed an opportunity to show how their relationship reached this point. Instead the author establishes this tone between them from the beginning and it remains static throughout. In the end, this isn’t a book about the relationship between Lockwood and her priest dad.Instead, this is a book about how she went from being dependent on her parents to becoming an independent, successful writer. A wonderful story in its own right, but not one that was set up clearly at the start.

There may not be a character arc and the book may veer wildly off course—an entire chapter is devoted to Lockwood and her mother discovering semen in their hotel room—but this book remains one of my all-time favorites. This is the result of her fresh approach to the topic so many continue to struggle against—how to make peace with our religious upbringing and with the parents who brought us up in it.

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