My dad was a strong presence in every room he entered. With a booming laugh and tall stature, he was a gentle giant, bear-hugging everyone at least three feet off the ground with each introduction.
Billy Ray Tate was a Baylor Bears defensive end in the early 1970s. Those Bears were a team of superheroes on campus, best known for being the first Baylor team to defeat the Texas Longhorns in more than 17 years.
He made history and then made us — me and my two sisters. He became our superhero. He made a family of smart kids who learned about discipline, character and kindness by watching him practice what he preached.
Dad took care of those around us by feeding and welcoming strangers into our home. He was assistant pastor of the Church of Revelation in South Oak Cliff for 19 years, advising and raising a new generation of men and women who learned to love life so much more than they did before they met him. These men and women have gone on to create stable families and raise beautiful children.
It was through his living example that I learned how to be a man. His steps in faith and understanding led the way.
Dressed in his DART bus driver uniform — black hat, dress shirt, black pants and jingling keys — he would race me home when I was younger. His laugh, a joyful roar that was infectious to all who heard it, echoes in my memory now. Back then, it told me everything would be all right.
Then, in 2001, he suffered a stroke.
Lying in a hospital bed, tubes tracing his body, his laughter was suddenly drowned out by a breathing apparatus.
Superman had succumbed to diabetes. But in true Superman tradition, he fought back and recovered.
The sun’s rays did not recharge his powers. It was the hands of God, moved by the prayers of hundreds of those he deeply affected, that enabled him to walk into church one Sunday morning as a healed man.
He didn’t come back with all his physical abilities or his quickest mind, but he was still sound, wise and strong enough to walk into service, preach, lay hands and continue God’s work for another decade.
In August, he died of a sudden heart attack.
When I found him that Saturday afternoon, I knew he was gone. I called the paramedics. I texted church members to pray, but how could I ask him to come back to Earth? He was already dancing his way through Heaven, probably bear-hugging Ray Charles and Martin Luther King Jr.
My dad did a lot while he was here. He became a father figure for a slew of young men who never had fathers. Several of them called him “Uncle Billy,” even after they were 40.
I want to continue spreading my father’s love through my own actions. I want my children to see me as their superhero, too.
If Dad proved anything in his existence, it’s that supermen don’t need capes and tights to fight for something meaningful. They just need the desire to do so.