Monday, May 15, 2017

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood - Book Review

Priestdaddy is a memoir of the author and her relationship with both the Catholic Church and with her father, who is a Catholic priest.  Yes, you read that right - a Catholic priest who is married and has children.  This is just the first in a lifetime of unusual facts and events that have shaped Patricia Lockwood, and makes for a raunchy, hilarious, and poignant work.

The book starts off with the author, as a late teenager, running away with a man she met on the internet. When Jason, the man who would eventually become her husband, has some expensive health issues, they realize that they cannot afford to live on their own.  They return to live with her parents, and Patricia is thrust headfirst back into the craziness that had been her childhood.  She documents the daily interactions she has with her parents, and draws from past occurrences to write this book.  In fact, there are chapters where the act of documenting people's utterances are discussed, making this work a bet meta in places.

The players in this memoir are almost unbelievably animated, especially her father.  He's this larger-than-life character - a priest who spouts horrifically conservative rhetoric yet loves to play electric guitar in his underwear.  He refuses to contribute toward college educations for his daughters, but easily spends huge sums of money on musical instruments.  A man who found his religious calling on a submarine, while watching The Exorcist, is truly unusual.  He's an enigma, and you can see the author struggling with that.  There are so many situations where Patricia tries to square her familial love with the deplorable things he says, does, and believes. 

For an anniversary of the church where her father is the priest, the area's Bishop, Robert Finn, comes in his official capacity to participate in the services.  The author comes across an article about a local priest, Shawn Ratigan, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for child pornography.  Long before Father Ratigan was arrested, rumors about and evidence of his proclivities were rampant, leading him to attempt suicide.  Instead of reporting him to authorities, Bishop Finn sent him to a convent to receive evaluation and ordered him to have no further contact with children.  When Father Ratigan began photographing children he met through that church, he was eventually charged and plead guilty.  More than five months passed before the police were notified, and they charged Bishop Finn for his role in covering up the whole affair.  The Bishop was later forced to resign by Pope Francis.  In response, the Patricia Lockwood's father wrote an article explaining how he believed that the whole child molestation situation was a conspiracy to arrest religious leaders for their conservative beliefs, and that the prosecution's lawyer had ties to "the abortion industry".  These are the kinds of situations that give the author pause, and bring about the reflection and questioning that occurs throughout Priestdaddy.

Having been raised Catholic, but seeing the world in a more progressive way, the author is unique in her exploration of serious issues affecting the church and its teachings in today's world.  Child sexual abuse is not the only serious issue discussed here.  Abortion, suicide, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and many other topics come up in the book.  For each, she lays bare the hypocrisy, fear, and false beliefs that are rampant in the teachings of the church. 

There is darkness in Priestdaddy but there are also moments of joy and hilarity.  The author's sister has a low tolerance for alcohol, and when she drinks she does things like attack garden weeds like they're mortal enemies.  When she and her mother go on a road trip, they find a suspicious stain on the bedspread.  Her mother, who will worry about any illness or injury that could possibly happen to anyone anywhere, is convinced that the stain is ejaculation.  The priest-in-training who lives with the family for a few months even has some hilariously bizarre behaviors and catchphrases.  There is The Grindup, a large van once the possession of a local rap star, but now belonging to one of the author's sisters, that features in a few chapters.

The book is hilarious because it's bizarre, but it's bizarre humor that pervades throughout.  It was hard to distinguish if the humor was meant to offset some of the fear and sadness that permeates, or whether the opposite was true.  There is so much tragedy, but so much joy and love.  Eventually, Patricia and her husband move out to their own home, but the time spent with her family has imprinted on them in unimaginable ways.

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