Tom MacWright

I read Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood on


Sitting in Dolores Park in San Francisco, twenty years into my life as a heathen, it’s funny now that I used to get days off from school to be an altarboy and run the tightly-coordinate plays of the Catholic religious calendar, which includes many more Holy Days than you’d guess. Or that my first real girlfriend was the daughter of an evangelical preacher and she believed both that I was going to hell and that PBS was an integral part of the homosexual conspiracy. Little did she know that a decade later one of my good friends would rise through the ranks of the organization and play a small role in the 22nd season of Arthur, the season that kicked off with a gay marriage.

Priestdaddy uses that transition between religious childhood and a typical adulthood as its source material, using Lockwood’s incredible way with words to pull out the funny threads of homoeroticism and carnality that exist in the priesthood, to also mull on what it is to write, and how we relate to our parents. It’s endlessly fluent. At the same time I was reading this, I was also paging through “Spunk and Bite,” a style manual meant to inspire future memoirists and novelists. Some of the advice in Spunk felt trite, like how it suggests you use plenty of juicy metaphors for color. But everything I learned there I saw applied in Priestdaddy, and was surprised that Lockwood’s language - florid, it seemed, being now hyper-aware of stylistic memes - actually just works.

Priestdaddy is trying to be several different things - a tragicomedy, a consideration of writing, a flippant treatise on modern religion, a feminist commentary. It succeeds at most of them, but Lockwood’s sensitivity is overshadowed by her lightheartedness.

This is one of the good kinds of books that makes you want to write, at the same time as it builds an appreciation of how hard it is to become a writer. I think that a lot of my enjoyment had to do with how parts resonated with my own past, and I’m not sure how it would read to someone with no background in Christianity or an attitude towards it that is not mine - which is a tall order. For all the things that Catholicism is, for the countless children abused by priests, the corruption at every level, the complicity in colonization, well - it was also a place where I could go to a school where I felt like I belonged for the first time, and the way I met a priest (Father Lasch), who embodied everything I respect about authenticity, morality, and higher meaning. In the final chapters, Priestdaddy talks about how even once the memories are years in the past, the language and framework of Catholicism - with all its flaws, failures, and funny obsessions, stripped of any literal belief or scheduled ritual - still, they’re still there.