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Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood


by Patricia Lockwood

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Quick take

Lockwood uses the nine months she and her husband live with her parents as the springboard to examine her extraordinary upbringing by two very eccentric individuals.


Father Greg Lockwood is unlike any Catholic priest you have ever met—a man who lounges in boxer shorts, loves action movies, and whose constant jamming on the guitar reverberates "like a whole band dying in a plane crash in 1972." His daughter is an irreverent poet who long ago left the Church's country. When an unexpected crisis leads her and her husband to move back into her parents' rectory, their two worlds collide.

In Priestdaddy, Lockwood interweaves emblematic moments from her childhood—from an ill-fated family hunting trip and an abortion clinic sit-in where her father was arrested to her involvement in a cultlike Catholic youth group&mdashwith scenes that chronicle the eight-month adventure she and her husband had in her parents' household after a decade of living on their own. Lockwood details her education of a seminarian who is also living at the rectory, tries to explain Catholicism to her husband, who is mystified by its bloodthirstiness and arcane laws, and encounters a mysterious substance on a hotel bed with her mother.

Lockwood pivots from the raunchy to the sublime, from the comic to the deeply serious, exploring issues of belief, belonging, and personhood. Priestdaddy is an entertaining, unforgettable portrait of a deeply odd religious upbringing, and how one balances a hard-won identity with the weight of family and tradition.

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From chapter one:

"Before they allowed your father to be a priest," my mother tells me, "they made me take the Psychopath Test. You know, a priest can't have a psychopath wife, it would bring disgrace."

She sets a brimming teacup in front of me and yells, "HOT!" She sets a second one in front of my husband, Jason, and yells, "Don't touch it!" She situates herself in the chair at the head of the table and gazes at the two of us with total maternal happiness, ready to tell the story of the time someone dared to question her mental health.

We are congregating in the dining room of my father's rectory in Kansas City, where I have returned to live with my parents after twelve long years away. Jason presses his shoulder against mine for reassurance and tries to avoid making eye contact with the graphic crucifix on the opposite wall, whose nouns are like a poem's nouns: blood, bone, skin. We are penniless and we are exhausted and in the grand human tradition, we have thrown ourselves at the mercy of the church, which exists for me on this earth in an unusually patriarchal form. It walks, it cusses, it calls me Bit. It is currently shredding its guitar upstairs, across the hallway from the room where we will be staying for the foreseeable future. Through the east window I can see the same dark geometry of buildings that surrounded me all throughout my childhood: closed school, locked gymnasium, the squares and spires of a place of worship plummeting up into the night.

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Why I love it

Patricia Lockwood is the daughter of a Catholic priest'”and that is actually the blandest fact about her. She is one in a million, a fresh and honest and hilarious observer of life. And Father Lockwood is one in a million as well'”a priest who takes the Lord seriously, even though he’s most comfortable when half nude and jamming on his electric guitar in the living room.

In her memoir Priestdaddy, Lockwood explains not only how her father entered the priesthood despite the existence of her and her four siblings but so much more, including how to fall in love and marry over the internet, how to behave at an anti-abortion rally when you are four years old, which cream liqueurs are the most alcoholic, what to do when your father trades your college education for a guitar previously owned by a Beatle, and how to road trip with a mother who fears sexually-tainted motel comforters.

The big answer to all of these questions, at least as far as Lockwood goes, is to apply an acerbic and brilliant sense of humor plus a strong sense of compassion and a total lack of sanctimony, to whatever'”and I mean, whatever'”life serves up.

The book begins with Lockwood and her husband moving back into her family home in Kansas City, a move forced upon them by illness and poverty. The couple have endured some terrible months and yet I was laughing by page two, and I continued laughing for the next three hundred pages. Sometimes my laughter was mixed with tears, either from laughing too hard ('œMy father despises cats. He believes them to be Democrats. He considers them to be little mean hillary clintons covered all over with feminist legfur') or due to the inescapable pathos of the moment, frankly related: 'œIf the church teaches anything, it’s that sometimes we have to answer for what other people have done. Let me do it by standing up and walking out of the countinghouse, and saving my number for the smaller side.'

Lockwood uses the nine months she and her husband remain uncomfortably living with her parents as the springboard for examining her extraordinary upbringing by two very eccentric individuals, and the impact such a childhood has had on her adult life. She explores her contentious relationship with religion, her self-questioning over faith and duty and family, and her eventual parting with the church. And yet it became clear to me that while Lockwood ultimately rejects the practices of modern-day Catholicism, she appears to have taken away the very best of its tenets: she approaches life open to every feeling and nuance, every vision and insight, and she expresses herself freely and beautifully. Her poetry has been heralded for its ingenuity, honesty, humor, and grit, and the same qualities come through in this, her first, and hopefully not her last, book of prose.

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Member ratings (1,585)

  • Savannah B.

    Biltmore Lake, NC

    Please, everyone read this book. Beyond its laugh out loud hilarity, the conversations about religion, family, bias/bigotry, and love are riveting and thought provoking. Lockwood is a narrative force.

  • Margaret R.


    I absolutely loved this book! Patricia Lockwood is the funniest author I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It was especially enjoyable because my family is Catholic so it was extremely relatable.

  • Caitlin M.

    New York, NY

    I drove my roommate nuts while reading this because I kept coming into her room every three minutes to read a sentence aloud to her. One of the best dissections of the Catholic Church I've ever read.

  • Kelly T.

    Cumberland, RI

    Funny, entertaining and so quick witted I had to reread some paragraphs. Patricia told a life story like non-other, her hilarious family is not your typical clergy family. Kept my attention every page

  • Charlotte G.

    Somerville, MA

    It becomes clearer and clearer as you read that Lockwood is first and foremost a poet. She tells her family's story with beautiful lyricism, refreshing weirdness and a sharp wit. She made me cry once.

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