Every kid needs someone to look up to, and they often pick fictional heroes like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and the like.
But when I was a child, my Poppa was the only hero I needed.
He was strong as an ox, smart as a whip and could make a whole crowd roll their eyes with a single joke.
No matter what happened, I always felt safe if Poppa was there because he could do anything. He was the epitome of a good person, practicing all the values he preached in and out of the pulpit.
To a young me, Poppa was nothing short of a real-life superhero.
And in the wake of his death this past Sunday, I can humbly say that sentiment still rings true.
I had seven days to accept the strong possibility that Poppa wasn't coming back when he was admitted to the ICU a week prior to his passing.
For seven days, I tediously collected bits of courage and strength for when the time might come.
It all vanished as soon as I heard the words "He's gone." It was like someone telling a child that Superman was dead.
How? Superman can't die; Superman's invincible.
Up until his last minutes, Poppa seemed to have his heels dug in for a fight to stay alive, but just as fast as his heart stopped beating, mine was crushed by the loss of the rock I'd stood upon my entire life.
The Rev. Dale Broadway's superpowers came from his faith in God, and he made sure he used that power to spread love, hope and a laugh or two everywhere he went and to whomever he spoke.
I was beyond blessed to have him in my life.
I never had a permanent father figure in my home growing up, but Poppa lovingly embraced me and raised me as his own child.
He taught me how to fish, how to cut grass, how to shave, how to fix a tractor and how to properly cook hamburger stew, cornbread fritters and boiled peanuts.
Most importantly, somewhere between the turnings of a wrench and him spitting tobacco into plastic cups, he found the time to teach me what it truly meant to be a man:
- Do everything you can when something needs to be done, but accept when you can't, and ask for help.
- Respect, support and love the women in your life. They're far more than cleaners and cookers and have infinitely more wisdom than we have ... most of the time.
- Marry someone who loves you unconditionally and who isn't afraid to correct you when you're being stupid (you're gonna do that a lot, son, as we all have).
- It's OK to feel hurt, it's OK to be angry, and it's OK to cry: Just don't mix big emotions with big decisions. Your actions affect the ones you love.
- Never hold someone to a higher standard than you would apply to yourself.
- No matter how worthless you might feel at times, know that you have friends and family who will always love you. Let those people know you love them, too. You never know what they're going through.
Poppa had advice for every problem - almost as if he'd been there before - but emphasized that each decision was mine to make.
What I thought about most in those last few days of his life was how every lecture, every visit began and ended with "I love you, son." He always wanted us to know that.
I don't know where I'm going to get those nuggets of wisdom now, but at the same time, I feel like he gave me plenty to work with from here on out.
I also thought about how supernatural Poppa seemed when I was a kid. I remember sharing stories about him with anyone who would listen to me, as if he were an actual superhero or a living legend.
The thing about legends is they never die.
He may no longer be breathing, but I swear I can still feel that big ol' bear paw on my shoulder, giving a little squeeze with a "Whatcha thinkin' about, bubba?"
And when I feel overwhelmed with doubt and grief, I can hear that low, resonant voice in my head: "It's gon' be all right, son. We'll make it through this."
If I live to be half the man you were, Poppa, I'll easily earn a chance to see you again. Till then, I love you, and I miss you.
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