A danger of having a priest for a dad: he just might write a homily about you. At nineteen, shortly after running away with a man she met on an online poetry forum, Patricia Lockwood found herself sitting in church one Sunday, listening to her dad preach a homily titled “The Prodigal Daughter.”
Lockwood took it in stride. “At the time my reaction alternated between embarrassment and amusement, but now I see it must have been prophetic,” she writes in her memoir, Priestdaddy. “All these years I have been tending the pigs of liberalism, agnosticism, poetry, fornication, cussing, salad-eating, and wanting to visit Europe, but I am back home now, and the pigs can't come with me.”
Twelve years after she first leaves the rectory, a series of misfortunes leaves Lockwood and her husband, Jason, jobless and broke. With nowhere else to go, the couple pack up their belongings and move into the Kansas City rectory shared by Lockwood’s mother, Karen, and her father Greg, a Roman Catholic priest.
Lockwood’s situation is improbable in a lot of ways, the least of which is having a married Catholic priest for a father; as she puts it, the mercy of the church “exists for me on this earth in an unusually patriarchal form.” And although she never attended college, Lockwood has published poetry in The New Yorker and the London Review of Books, amassed over sixty-seven-thousand Twitter followers, and earned a significant cult following for her dark, subversive sense of humor.
Lockwood had previously published two books of poetry, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, but living with her parents inspired her to try a new writing project: recording life with her irrepressible and quirky family. The result is Priestdaddy, a wry, observant, and funny—if ultimately uneven—account of growing up in possibly the most Catholic of Catholic families.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lockwood was raised in “all the worst cities of the Midwest,” moving each time her father was assigned to a new parish. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Lockwood recalls living in five different rectories and attending six different schools. Growing up, her life (unsurprisingly) revolved around the Catholic Church. She sang in a choir and attended a youth group called God’s Gang that was “40 percent shag carpet and 60 percent Bible verses.”
After a whirlwind internet courtship, Lockwood’s husband Jason proposed to her in the parking lot of a Kroger’s grocery store (“the most matrimonial of all grocery stores”) the first time they met in person. They spent the next twelve years roaming the country while Jason worked as a newspaper editor and Lockwood wrote poetry. After she left home, Lockwood also quietly left the Catholic Church. “It was like forgetting a language you spoke a long time ago, when you were a child,” she says. During the eight months they live in her father’s rectory, Lockwood is thrown out of the bohemian, free-wheeling life she and Jason created for themselves and back into a world where dinner with the bishop is the social event of the month.
Lockwood is in a unique position to rediscover this world, and she generally does so with astuteness and a wicked sense of humor. She hasn’t forgotten the language of her former homeland so much as “turn[ed] it inside out, repurpose[ed] it, and occasionally use[d] it to tell jokes.” Her poetry experiments with explicit sexual humor and religious imagery, but Priestdaddy is more concerned with rediscovering a world Lockwood chose to leave, and finding her new place in it. Back again in that world, Lockwood reexamines her upbringing, her family, and her former church. She treats her eight-month stay in the rectory as an anthropological mission of sorts, reexamining the terrain of her childhood. “Everyone gets a window. This is what mine looks out on,” she writes.
Priestdaddy jumps seamlessly back and forth between past and present. Memories from the author’s Midwestern childhood are interrupted by sketches of daily life at the rectory: Karen reading about demonic rosaries on the internet or Greg playing his electric guitar with a tone-deaf enthusiasm that “sounds like a whole band dying in a plane crash in the year 1972.”
According to his daughter, Fr. Greg doesn't have a conversion story; he has an “origin story,” like Superman or Batman. This tells you everything you need to know about Greg Lockwood and his larger-than-life personality. Greg met Karen in high school, married at eighteen, and joined the Navy. Onboard the nuclear submarine the USS Flying Fish, he experienced what he calls “the deepest conversion on record.” His daughter attributes his conversion to the seventy-two times the crew watched The Exorcist over the course of the patrol. “You're a drop of blood at the center of the ocean…. All of a sudden you look up at a screen and see a possessed twelve-year-old with violent bedhead vomiting green chunks and backwards Latin,” Lockwood writes. “You would convert too, I guarantee it.”