Start Reading Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

A must-read memoir about growing up with a married Catholic priest for a father.

Somehow or other, the seminarian has heard about milfs and he is haunted by the concept. He fears hordes of milfs are roaming the plains of dating, simultaneously breastfeeding and trying to trick young men into having sex with them. “Are milfs something that’s popular in secular culture for guys in their twenties to go after?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say gravely, signaling Jason across the room to write that quote down word for word. “Very, very popular. The most popular thing now.”

His eyes widen and he crosses his legs, as if to protect his holy jewels from the very notion of a milf. I consider other possible lies to tell him.

In Britain they call them Nummy Mummies, and due to the gender imbalance left over from the Great War, there are two of them for every male.

There’s no way of telling whether your own mother is a milf, but if she likes to play bingo, it’s almost certain.

The wine of Italy is stomped out by milfs, so when you taste the wine, you are tasting their desire.

During the full moon a milf lactates a powerful sex milk that is instantly addictive to any man who tries it.

He interrupts my reverie to explore the subject further. “What’s the difference between a milf and a cougar?”

“Cougars are . . . hornier,” I say, thinking fast. “A milf doesn’t have to be horny at all, it just has to be a Mom You’d Like to F, but a cougar is horny, and it prowls.”

“So disordered,” the seminarian breathes. Calling people “disordered” is practically his favorite thing to do, and a tawny animal woman who chases after tender cubs is about as disordered as it gets. “I hope I never meet one.”

I get very close to his face and fix him with my most feline expression. “Too late, buddy. You already have.”

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I want to take the Gay Inkblot Test so bad I can taste it. According to my father, they administer an inkblot test to all the men who are studying to become priests in order to determine whether they’re possessed by the handsome little demon of Same Sex Attraction. (He refers to it as SSA, both for jauntiness and to save time.) I’m not sure whether the inkblots themselves have been somehow designed to be gay—balls everywhere, kaleidoscopic bursts of abs, the words “I’M GAY” doing backflips in the ink, a dong on the classic Rorschach butterfly—or whether they just expect people to see gay things in them. Either way, the test cannot be categorized as either scientific or sane, but my father places great faith in it.

“It’s foolproof,” he tells me, with the self-satisfaction of a man who knows he would pass. If he took the test, he would see only Batmobiles, but these guys would see the naked body of Robin. His beliefs about homosexuality are in general keeping with those of the church, with a few small but distinctive flourishes of his own. Earlier this week, for instance, he informed me Elton John became gay because he was “raised by too many aunts.”

When the seminarian took the inkblot test, he saw bunnies. “You saw . . . bunnies?” I ask. “Bunnies are fine,” he says with authority. “Bunnies are very wholesome. What you DON’T want to see is half- animal half-humans. That would show you were messed up.” Regular bunnies are just evidence you love Easter, but woe to the one who looks into the ink and sees a rabbit with the luscious lower half of a man.

Important: do you understand how badly I would fail this test? I would get something worse than an F. But my father refuses to even let me look at the Gay Inkblots. He’s afraid of what he might find. He knows he was saved from ever seeing me bring home a girl named Boots with screws in her ears for one reason and one reason only: because I got married when I was twenty-one to a man I met in cyberspace.

“We don’t know if it works on women,” they say cautiously, when I raise the subject amid the happy family clamor of the dinner table. “That’s not . . . we haven’t studied that yet.”

“In fact”—the seminarian sighs—“no one knows how lesbians work.”

“It’s easy,” I say. “You put one leg over her leg, and then she puts her other leg over your other leg, and then you brush each other’s hair forever while not going to church.”

He rolls his eyes. “You’re not a lesbian, Tricia,” he tells me patiently. “You wear dresses.”

“If you’re so determined to figure out who’s gay and who’s not,” I say to my father, “then why don’t you ask someone who has actually met some gay people, gay people who haven’t had to pretend their whole lives not to be gay?”

Gaydar is not real, and I hope never to be in the business of perpetuating crude stereotypes, but the priest who owns his own harp and gets ten different brown-bagged magazines about the Royal Family delivered to him each month? Is possibly not a straight man. But Dad assures me the Gay Inkblot Test is quite sufficient for their needs. So a word to my queer brothers who are longing for a life in the Church: you are safer than houses, for the time being. Go with God.

The seminarian talks frequently about his “celibate powers,” which mainly consist of being able to get up extremely early. No, it doesn’t sound good to me either, though it’s plausible my extreme deficiency of celibacy is the reason I often sleep till noon. To protect and strengthen these celibate powers, he has developed a move called the celibacy block, where he holds up both arms in front of himself in the shape of a cross to ward off the person who’s trying to seduce him— mainly women, as he explains to me, who are “wearing volleyball shorts when there isn’t even any volleyball going on.” “You know what would be a better idea,” I tell him. “To just point a gun at any girl who’s cute and yell ‘I DON’T THINK SO’ at the top of your lungs.”

The celibacy block is necessary, it seems, because the woods are full of women who lust after men of the cloth. “We call them chalice chippers,” the seminarian explains one Sunday, piling his plate with the cold cuts and pickles my mother always sets out after the last Mass.

“They’re everywhere,” my father adds, vengefully forking a slice of roast beef, and goes on to tell us the story of a woman who once gave him “a teddy bear soaked with your mother’s perfume, to try and tempt me.”

How would that even work? Has any man who ever drew breath been seduced according to this method? Also, I would love to date a woman who soaks teddy bears in perfume and sexually gives them to priests, because she has got to be crazier in bed than any atheist ever dreamed of being. Maybe once you got back to her apartment you would see an even bigger teddy propped up against her pillow, soaked in holy water and waiting for you, with a Bible between its legs opened up to the Song of Songs. Maybe it’s for the best, after all, that the seminarian knows what a furry is. If they ever come for him, he’ll be ready.

I am not sure what the seminarian wants, exactly. He acts with admirable propriety at all times, despite the fact that all the chairs in this house are upholstered with velvet and leave perfect impressions of your hindquarters whenever you sit down on them. My mother obliterates the prints with the palm of her hand whenever she encounters them, but I sneak back in and sit on the chairs again when she’s not looking. The seminarian is unaffected by this campaign, however. His sights are set on something higher. The firmest desire I ever hear him assert is that he would like to have a lady wash his clothes, perhaps in a river.

“Why a river, specifically?” I probe further, carrying two mugs of tea in from the kitchen to fortify us against the doldrums of four o’clock.

“I want to watch her rub my clothes on the stones,” he responds.

I look down at him for a long moment, wondering if I should tip the tea out into his lap so he doesn’t get too turned on by my gesture of servitude, and he shrugs. “I like domestic stuff,” he tells me, his voice falling to a sudden romance-novel huskiness. So fuck a butler. Men, it bears repeating, are so weird. This is so far outside my area of sexual expertise it’s not even funny. Tell me you want to role-play a butlerfuck while pretending to serve your penis on a big silver tray and I will nod with understanding, and perhaps even offer to film it. But you want a woman to wash your clothes in a river? What are you, some kind of pervert?

A priest ’s uniform includes the following: a white collar, either cloth or celluloid. A black short-sleeved shirt, black slacks and black belt, black shoes. Black Gold Toe socks. No other kind of sock is even considered. Underwear, I think. They buy these items from a special Sacred Clothing catalog, which for some reason is illustrated with pictures of priests laughing insanely, raising crunk cups to Christ, and posing in close embraces. No one knows what they’re doing, but they appear to be having just as good a time as the Victoria’s Secret models. Pillowfights do not seem far away. When my father started saying the Latin Mass, he gave up the short-sleeved shirts and slacks and took to wearing a cassock, which is just a long black dress for a man that everyone refuses to call a dress. (“It is a dress,” I have reiterated many times, trying to open people’s eyes to the truth. “And the pope wears what a baby would wear to the prom.”) The seminarian wears a cassock too, because he’s traditional, and he asked for thirty-three buttons on his: one for each year of Jesus’ life. On formal occasions, both of them affect a pompom hat, which has no utility as far as I can tell and which no one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction.

“Really, a pompom hat?” I ask one day, when the seminarian and my dad are both sitting across the table from me decked out in their full regalia, looking like two dark Muppets from the realms of hell.

“It’s not a pompom, it’s a tuft,” the seminarian tells me. “A pompom would be silly.”

“We don’t call it a hat, we call it a biretta,” my father adds, his tuft going absolutely wild.

Ah. Why wear a regular hat, when you can wear a hat that sounds like a firearm. I begin flipping through the latest Sacred Clothing catalog and pause at a picture of a hundred-year-old priest and a twenty-five-year-old priest spooning each other in front of a stained-glass window. “Look at these incredible fantasy scenarios,” I say, turning the picture sideways. “I’m taking this upstairs with me. This is my Playboy now.” A few pages on, a photo of a female minister wearing vestments in all colors of the rainbow catches my attention. “Wait a minute, there are women in this?”

My father screws his eyes up very tinily, as if to cause the female minister and all others like her to disappear. “Those goofy Anglicans,” he says, and then makes the distressing moo-cow noise he always makes when imitating the communications of feminists, who lurk in his imagination in rabid, milk-spurting, man-stampeding herds. “MooOOooo, we all gotta be equal, don’t we?” he mocks, with such perfect assurance of my agreement that I wonder if he has ever really looked at me, or heard a single word I’ve ever said. Perhaps, when all is said and done, I am more like a son to him than a daughter.

Excerpted from PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood © 2017 by Patricia Lockwood

Author photo: © Grep Hoax

PATRICIA LOCKWOOD was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised in all the worst cities of the Midwest. She is the author of two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, a New York Times Notable Book. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, and The London Review of Books. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.


PATRICIA LOCKWOOD was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised in all the worst cities of the Midwest. She is the author of two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, a New York Times Notable Book. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, and The London Review of Books. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.