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RBR Reading Room: Jim Hock’s “Father on the Line”

Dads matter, even long after they’re gone.

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Football - Los Angeles Rams - Photo day, 1957 Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

Ours is a zeitgeist that has increasingly minimized the role of fatherhood, in both popular culture and in certain academic disciplines (the latter sometimes attempts to define it out of existence). It is an age that has bombarded us with media portrayals of the less-fair sex as being populated by buffoons, cretins, and incompetents; where jocular chauvinists and potential predators lurk behind every five o’clock shadow; where even things like basic exercise or accommodations to fundamental anatomy are attacked.

It can be exhausting.
It has been exhausting.
Indeed, it remains exhausting.

That is just one reason why I was so very pleased to be sent an advance copy of Jim Hock’s unabashed homage of love to his father, the LA Rams’ legendary guard, John Hock. “Father on the Line” is just that too — it is a book of love. Yet, Father on the Line (Rare Bird, August 11, 2020) goes far deeper than just love.

Part oral history, part documentation of family folklore, part memoir, it is penned with a quick and witty grace that doesn’t waste the reader’s time. It gets to the point of each aphorism and anecdote At the end of each chapter, you are left feeling a little jealously at the relationship between these two that we hear far too seldom these days. It makes you want to be a better man, just as it makes you want to be a better son.

John Hock lived an extraordinary life. It was a life of triumphs — an All-Pro NFL career on the legendary Hollywood Rams teams that gave LA a rare taste of success on the gridiron. It was a life of brotherhood as well; just 12 small teams composed the Post-War NFL, and its players were often more of a fraternity than they were bitter combatants.

And it was also a hard life. There is plenty of combat, to be sure. It was a brutal era of football. It was a sport for, and one unabashedly played by, men. How could it not be? The NFL was a league full of Greatest Generation warriors...and it also had its cads and jesters and fools, its cowboys and poets, its frontiersmen and city slickers — men, all. Different men, but unapologetic ones.

And that is what makes Father on the Line so rewarding for fans of the sport, at any level. It is more like a chat with your long-lost uncle than it is a memoir. John Hock is no longer with us. But Jim Hock has the tales of those days; he has the stories that were told to him by his father, as well as the ones that he lived with him. We see the league built from the ground-up, we relive those desperate battles in the trenches of the NFL’s Golden Age, all from the vantage point of a football well from a son who had a remarkable father that he loved very much. They just happen to be the same person. (There’s also a story about Paul W. Bryant, that I won’t spoil for you. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.)

The humanity that comes through each page imparts a message that the author probably did not even intend. But, in 2020 it is a very relevant one: Fathers matter. And the impact of dads lasts well beyond our lifetime. More than memories, far more than lessons taught and lessons learned, greater than a bond — it is about the primal, urgent need to tell stories, to prepare your children for the pitfalls of life, to share as much love as you can in the way that you know best — even if it may only be fully known with the ripeness of time.

Fathers matter. You matter.

Get this book.