Poet Patricia Lockwood’s dad wasn’t just her dad: He was Father to entire Catholic parishes, including St. Vincent de Paul on River Road. Her memoir Priestdaddy (Riverhead Books) revisits life in the rectory, packed with her trademark sardonic wit and observational prowess—muddy river, Don Pablo’s, Purple People Bridge, pro-life protests, and all.
It was a very cathartic read, having grown up in Cincinnati in a religious environment. You’re my demographic! If you don’t like the book, then we have a serious problem.
I was struck by your ability to balance being compassionate and being honest when it comes to your family. Did writing the book change your relationship with them? Living with them in that very close containment [as an adult for the eight months when the book is largely set] did. When you’re a kid, you don’t think I can turn this into something—it’s just something that’s happening to you.
Was it hard portraying people you know so well? That’s why I’m so reliant on actual verbatim quotes—you can already sort of picture my dad from some of his. I keep it immediate and anchored in concrete details, impressionistic in a very sensory way. I think everyone thought I was going to write this insanely ruthless book where I swoop down on the church like a bat out of hell and tear down the whole thing. And I was like, Oh, no. Good writing doesn’t necessarily allow for you to be as much of an asshole as you actually are.
The book is endlessly funny, but also quite heavy in places. You discuss sex abuse in the church being an open secret growing up, noting what people will let slip when they think that you’re a part of their “we.” It was so pervasive. There was always some part of me that stood apart, and it looked at things with great focus and almost an unforgiving eye. I think that is why I’m a writer. That’s what never really allowed me to feel like I was part of it. But I mean, you are inextricably part of it. You grow up and you realize that your family, culture, and religious background are part of you in a way that is just as essential as what you’ve chosen to do with your life. It’s depressing, you know?