I originally wrote this in 2009, and it’s worthy of being reprinted, again, and again:
At first I wasn’t going to do this, because it’s too hard. But I just knew I could not let the Memorial Day go by without honoring my father, Zenophon Abraham, Sr., and my stepfather Chester Yerger, Jr. Both served in World War II, and both received honorable discharges from it.
In my father’s case he’s now buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and, as I show in my 2009 video, …
I have his burial flag that was given to me after his ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute. Zennie Sr. passed away without a lot of money, and I was prepared to take on the debts he left behind, but it never came to that. We had a relationship that was on-and-off-and-on.
I think, as I grew and became ‘my own man’ as they say, he, at first, didn’t know how to deal with that. He was used to me always agreeing with him; then I hit 18 years old, and that pretty much stopped. I remember the first time I took issue with his point-of-view, explaining to him that, even though I was a Dallas Cowboys fan, I believed that the then-Los Angeles Rams were going to beat them in a NFL First Round Divisional 1981 Playoff Game.
Well, that’s what happened.
We didn’t talk much after that.
Dad remarried during the 80s, then in 1993, first informed me of my three young half-sisters. I didn’t actually meet them until the year my father passed away: 2005. The oldest and I communicate often, but not quite as much as I’d prefer.
My father and I reconnected in 1999. It was my first NFL Owners Meeting, the Fall Meeting that was then commonly held at the Hyattt Regency O’Hare. It was my first such meeting during the effort to bring the Super Bowl to Oakland, and I was jazzed to say the least. Attending such an event, let alone being asked to make a presentation, is a rare happening for anyone.
I even remember talking with this guy who would literally hang out in the lobby by himself, waiting to talk to the NFL Owners as they came out of whatever meeting was being held. He was an NFL junkie in a black shirt – a guy who looked like a kid at a candy store. Now, he’s on Fox Sports and his name’s Jay Glazer.
Since I knew that Dad lived 15 minutes away from the Hyatt, I invited him to have lunch with me. It was a moment I will never forget, because it was the day after the day that Chicago Bears Running Back Walter Payton passed away: November 1, 1999. My father said “I want to talk with you as a father talks to his son.” And he did.
I don’t care what anyone says, or how this is taken, you can’t replicate the impact a father has on the growth of a child – son or daughter. You just can’t. He said things to me that I will never forget or recount here.
Later, after my successful Super Bowl Policy Committee Meeting, where I was the only person representing Oakland (a long story) to talk before a group that consisted of then-NFL exec Neil Austrian, then-NFL SVP and “Mr. Super Bowl” Jim Steeg, Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay, the late NY Giants Co-Owner Bob Tisch, and the late Kansas City Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt (and where Irsay said my presentation was “outstanding” and you can ask him today), I called my father.
I just wanted to meet Dad for a drink; he wanted to go out and into Downtown Chicago to a club! Man, I just couldn’t see doing that with my old man. Boy, was I a square! Well, not really. I just think there are some activities that a young man should not do with his father, and that’s one of them!
My father, like my stepfather Chester Harding Yerger, Jr., was full of life. In Chester’s case, he was married to my Mom for 18 years before passing away the same year as my father – 2005.
Chester loved to talk with everyone, especially about the War, and about his legendary Arkansas family. The Yergers were one of the largest tax payers in the State of Arkansas, and have a history remembered today in the form of Yerger Middle School in Hope, Arkansas. He was proud of the legacy of a great African American family that was paced by Henry Clay Yerger, Chester’s grandfather.
Mr. Yerger started the Henry Clay Yerger School System in Hope, in 1886, with one building and one teacher – him. It grew steadily and became the first training school for Blacks west of the Mississippi River, and then in 1931 called Yerger High School.
After re-reading that, it’s not hard to brag, eh?
I lost both my father and Chester in 2005 and in October and on St. Patrick’s Day, respectively. That same year, in January, my mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Thanks to early detection, an early-stage drug called Femara, a great diet, and friends, and me, Mom beat it and was declared Cancer-free on April 17, 2005.
She’s still giving me lectures today; I love every one of them.
Happy Memorial Day.