In March of 2010, I was working as a server in a steakhouse. It was the end of the dinner rush and I had been fumbling through the night like usual—I was bad at this job. It was about nine-thirty and I went out back for a smoke and to check my phone. Mom had texted me, or left a voicemail, I’m not sure which. That's kind of the whole point of this. She said that she was on her way to Dawson Creek with two of her friends to see my Dad, something had to him happened on his way home from work and he was taken to the hospital.
My dad was one of those rig guys you see in Alberta—but not like they are now, he was old school. Handle bar moustache, pickup truck and old ways of thinking. He was the owner of Caliber Well Operators, a tiny but successful well operating company that was bought by Compton Petroleum in the early part of the new millennium. He worked outside Fairview, two hours from home. He made the commute every day, back and forth. Eventually, though he moved the office into town and was set up right. He told me that he even taught his secretaries how to play poker, and the whole office would play some afternoons. It seemed like the old man was on cruise control.
Then, Compton sold to the highest bidder and the new company already had a man in my father’s position. He was given a cheque and sent away at forty-eight years old, the cheque too small to retire on. He took a few months off and looked around at different things, but what he settled on still, to this day, makes me die a little inside. He went back to operating, what he was doing thirty years prior as a young man. He got a job with a company, the name of which I can't remember, working outside of Dawson Creek in the middle of the winter.
It's perpetually winter in my mind because of how it ended, but he worked that job for months. Twelve-hour days, most days a week with a four-hour round-trip commute. My old man wasn't Superman, he wasn't Hercules, but he belongs to the same class of man. He had an almost fictional strength. It's incredible what he did, when I look back at it all. Whenever I saw him he was just laid out on the couch, beat from the day. Nevertheless, he went every day and never complained; he told me stories about the interesting guys on his crew and even seemed excited about the whole situation.
By the time my Mom and her posse reached the hospital, my Dad had succumbed to a heart attack. It started in his truck on the highway, but he managed to pull over and get help, flagging down his colleague following from the same site. He was forty-nine.
I had gotten home from work and settled into the nightly ritual in my underwear. I had a movie on and was eating dinner when there was a rapid knock at my bedroom door. It was Olivia, my roommate. She talked through the door,
"Joel, there's uh... Some… women here looking for you?"
I never had pop-in visitors, so my eyebrows go up. I head downstairs, underwear and all, and it's my aunts, Dana and Phyllis. They're frantic and tell me to put on pants, that I need to come with them, that it's important and we have to go fast. We pull into Dana's driveway and there's familiar vehicles all over the block. I walk in and I see cousins, their boyfriends and girlfriends, uncles, aunts, an ex-girlfriend of mine who's close with the family still, my sisters but no Mom. What is all of this? Where's Mom? Everyone tells me things that I don't remember. They're all talking about my Dad and everyone's frowning. I knew something was happening, but I couldn’t comprehend even the simplest of information.
I go into an empty bedroom, pull out my phone and call my mom. As soon as I hear her voice, I know this isn't a phone call I ever wanted to have. I told her, "Dana said something about Rod being gone? What's happening, Mom? What the hell is going on?"
That's when she told me what I knew as soon as I saw Jade, the friend of my cousin Courtney that I had broken up with a year or so prior, in my aunt’s house at midnight. Dad's dead. Cue life unraveling.
I used to be able to write, talk and read about Batman for days, and I believe it was all born in the fallout from Rod’s death. I’ve always been a fan of DC Comics, but after all of his happened, I became a DC Comics fanatic. The books that got me through the first few months afterwards were Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, Infinite Crisis by Geoff Johns, and All-Star Batman and Robin by Frank Miller. Batman and Robin. All of these books feature in part or in whole the dynamic duo. My broken heart was pulled into this reluctant son and unknown father opera.
The guy I refer to as, "Dad," in this story is named Rod Kenney. He's my step-dad. He married my mother in 1993 and adopted me when I was nine. I kept the name of my biological father, Morgan. Curtis Ralph Morgan is a whole other story on his own—just know that he wasn't around, but I was old enough to know he was my dad when he left. Rod came after a period of my Mom trucking through being a single mother, and we had a difficult relationship until I was around seventeen.
As a courtesy to anyone who may want to read this one; there are spoilers ahead for Identity Crisis.
Near the midpoint of the book, there's a scene where the third Robin, Tim Drake, races into his apartment to find his father dead on the kitchen floor. I can still remember, not just reading it, but experiencing it, panel by panel as my heart raced and I prayed to the lord that Batman would get there in time to save our Dad. My eyes welled, and I broke down as Bruce caught Tim as he collapsed over the body. I was Tim Drake in that moment. Batman couldn't save my dad either.
Infinite Crisis was the first book that seriously introduced me to the concept of a multiverse and the infinite possibilities that comes with it. Multiple versions of one earth, populated by the possibilities of what could have been. Imagine a mind weakened by grief and suffocated in marijuana grasping that concept. It happened for me, and it began my disgusting decent into escapism. I'd live my life with the burning desire for all of it to be real. When I say burning, I mean an inferno. I wanted nothing more for something incredible to happen and whisk me away from my sad life, something to give me purpose and make all of the suffering worth it.
I withdrew from everything for a while and sank into myself. When I eventually did start working again, a friend of mine offered me a great job with him. I ended up getting fired from that job when I lost myself in this world of wanting everything to be something else. I became bitter and resentful for not being able to live a fantasy. It's a dangerous way to live inside of yourself and I completely lost everything I had scraped back together.
The most memorable quote in my mind from that period in my life is from Frank Miller, at the end of All-Star Batman and Robin, Vol. 1:
We mourn for lives lost. Including our own.
It's Bruce's voice over as he and Dick stand over the graves of the Graysons. A man and a boy. To paraphrase Grant Morrison, Bruce looks to Dick as everything he wants to be, the child who's happy, free and dedicated. Not the kid whose parents got murdered in crime alley. Dick looks up to Bruce as everything he wants to be, a man strong enough to face his fears head on, the Batman. I see the both of them as something I never want to be.
Batman and Robin are my favourite characters of all time, but they're held hostage by the deaths of their parents. And that's just not me, it was for a few years afterward, but you will stagnate and die if you live like that. I can't remember three years of my god damn life because I literally fell into the pages. The mind is a weak thing at times and can be taken over by childhood obsessions, or drugs, or any other substitute you can name in the face of the dark parts of life if you're not proactive.