In her memoir, Priestdaddy, Patricia (Tricia) Lockwood’s father is a walking “exception to the rules.” He is, in fact, a priestdaddy. He was a Lutheran minister when he married Tricia’s mother, who is Catholic. Subsequently he converted to Catholicism, and the Vatican allowed him to become a priest. So he is not just a father, who wears nothing but worn out boxers around the house, he is also a Father, who wears nothing but worn out boxers around the house. “All fathers believe they are God, and I took it for granted that my father especially believed it.” Her view of motherhood is more earthly. “A mother, as I understood it, was someone who was always trying to give you sixty dollars.” Her father believes in clear rules and boundaries – for other people. Her mother has never seen a boundary – not even on a map.
When 19 year old Tricia meets Jason online, they become fast friends. So fast that Jason soon shows up to take her away. As is typical, her father disappears “upstairs to fondle his guns and drink cream liqueurs.” Her mother is convinced Tricia will be found murdered on the roadside. But Tricia is unconcerned, because it turns out Jason is tall. And she has always trusted tall men.
Surprisingly, the relationship does not end with murder (maybe there is something to this tall man thing). They eventually are married by her father; however, health issues and a lack of money mean Tricia and Jason must move back in with her parents after leaving 12 years earlier. That is where this raucous and hilarious story starts.
And while there is much humor, there is trauma too. When she was in her teens, Tricia was raped by a family friend. Years later, she wrote an incredible poem, Rape Joke, about this horrific event. The poem went viral and contributed mightily to establishing her as a successful and respected (not always the same) writer. However, that is in the future. The rape, and everything that happens immediately thereafter, is soul crushing.
When she is examined by a pro-life doctor (the only kind her parents would allow), he tells her in a voice without charity or sympathy: “well, now you’ve learned that you can’t trust everyone, can you?” So that’s less than helpful. Plus, is it necessary to be raped to learn that lesson? Couldn’t we just learn it when (inevitably) a friend borrows $5.00 and never pays it back?
Her personal trauma aligns with the global trauma of the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal. As with Tricia, the abusive treatment continues well after the children are raped by priests. Her father is moved from church to church to “heal” the community after a priest accused of sexual misconduct is transferred to a different parish. Her father is either unaware or refuses to see that he is being used to help the church cover-up of the scandal. When Tricia meets the bishop, who will later go to prison for shielding pedophile priests, she sees “[t]he compassion in [his] face, that flowed toward the sinner and never the sinned-against, that forgave before justice had even been meted out.” This is a recurring theme. Where is the empathy for the victims? Why is it reserved only for the powerful and/or corrupt? Why is the reporter revealing the rot discredited as if “publication of the facts is the real crime?” Would we sue a building inspector for telling the residents that the foundation is crumbling and the building about to collapse? Actually, yeah, we probably would.
As with any good memoir (and this is an excellent one), the narration of specific life events (no matter how interesting) is secondary to the search for meaning. “Part of what you have to figure out in life is, who would I be if I hadn’t been frightened? What hurt me, and what would I be if it hadn’t?” Would Tricia be so intellectually curious and honest? Perhaps. Would she be as irreverent and funny? Maybe. Would she be such an insightful and powerful writer? Would she know exactly where to punch us so that all the air runs out of our lungs screaming “what just happened?” We suspect the answer is . . . . Well, fortunately, our suspicions don’t matter here.
This book is a delight. Where Tricia could have been bitter and cynical, she is loving and kind. But most of all she is honest. It is quite a feat. Despite being raped. Despite trying to commit suicide. Despite being unable to get pregnant. Despite having a narcissistic, remote, and strange father, this strong, sarcastic, independent, thoughtful, and deeply-funny person is able to simply and wonderfully conclude “I understand that what I have is enough.” We wish the same for ourselves and for you.
Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans