The memoir includes her father, but he’s more of a presiding, honorary character than the meat and bones of the manuscript — kind of like God’s role in the Bible. Except that the Bible’s title isn’t “God.”
What’s glorious in her writing has little to do with her father and everything to do with her fascinating mother and the way Lockwood’s relationship with her matures.
But first about the Priestdaddy.
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Lockwood’s father is a Catholic priest — and from this account there’s no denying that someone needed to put him in a book. Her depiction of him is a stunningly hysterical portrait of a man who received special ordination permission from the pope because he was married before he heard the call.
The author — who lives in Lawrence and is known as the “poet laureate of Twitter” (she has more than 65,000 followers) and the author of the viral poem “Rape Joke” and two collections of poetry — and her husband have hit tough times and have to move in with her parents.
Living under their roof again inspires her to begin recording the experience.
Greg Lockwood, who presides over a church in Waldo, was a staunch atheist for much of his life. At 18, he married Lockwood’s mother, Karen, who was a devout Catholic. Lockwood quotes her mother as saying, “but I knew I would make him a Catholic eventually, because the really bad ones always convert sooner or later.”
But “The Exorcist” really showed him the light.
While he was serving on a Navy submarine, he and his shipmates watched “The Exorcist” 72 times. “All around him men in sailor suits were getting the bejesus scared out of them, and the bejesus flew into my father like a dart into a bull’s-eye,” Lockwood writes.
We also learn that at home he wears only underwear; his children see him in full priest regalia or stripped down to nothing. No in-between.
When Lockwood’s internet boyfriend (her eventual husband) comes to spirit her away at age 19, she goes.
“When we came home later, my father was wearing his most transparent pair of boxer shorts, to show us he was angry, and drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur out of a miniature crystal glass, to show us his heart was broken.”
He’s also a conservative Republican, screams during televised sports, plays a wild electric guitar, does not support feminism in any form in spite of having three daughters and a wife, and doesn’t help any of his five children go to college.
So mostly, Daddy is a character, maybe a celestial being, whom his daughter understands only through his effect on others.
Her mother is the down-to-earth constant.
“You love your mother most when you’re hip-height and can still hide in her skirts,” Lockwood writes in a chapter titled “Abortion Barbie,” about her childhood involvement in picketing a Planned Parenthood clinic.
What Lockwood has set down on paper isn’t necessarily what she means — one of the charms of prose written by a poet.
She shows us that you love your mother best when you’re an adult who sees your mother’s life as it is, and as it has been since before you were born. You love your mother most when you really see the person she has been married to all these years and understand her role in that relationship.
This book shines brightest not when Lockwood is parsing through hurtful or odd interactions with her father, but when she dramatizes scenes with her mother or sisters.
At right about the halfway point in the memoir — where the climax of a book normally occurs — she and her mother are at a hotel and find bodily fluid on their sheets. They’re traveling from Kansas City to Savannah, Ga., to collect some books from a storage unit.
Lockwood and her mother tussle about who will touch the substance to verify its suspected identity.
Mom wants to know how long such a fluid stays alive. Lockwood gets on the internet and finds: “Sperm either die shortly after they leave the body, or they live eternally, first on earth and then in heaven, banging themselves adoringly against the great gold egg of God’s face. No one can decide.”
Lockwood, who is famously potty-mouthed, strings together one brilliant piece of dialogue after another until she and her mother converge into a single, nasty vocab list.
“I have gazed into a puddle of genetic matter and seen my own DNA. We are more related than we’ve ever been. … We join hands and set forth into the morning, united by that human glue which cannot be dissolved.”
This memoir not only asks “who am I?” but deftly asks and answers “who are they?” about her family.
In poetic fashion, she writes: “… you enter the country, the state, the city, and finally the little four-cornered house, and finally your mother’s body, and finally your own.”
“Priestdaddy,” by Patricia Lockwood (352 pages; Riverhead Books; $27)