Contributor Two Contributor Two
Jason Crabb Goes One on One with Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson
Contributor Two Contributor Two
Duck Dynasty is big. Really big. The A&E reality-television series is bigger than a Louisiana gator lurking in a pond near Duck Commander headquarters, where members of the Robertson family have crafted and sold millions of duck and buck calls since 1973. The show is bigger than the weight of the hair in the main characters’ flowing, ZZ Top-esque beards. It’s so big that a jaw-dropping 8.6 million viewers watched the first episode of the current (third) season, making “Duck Dynasty” the number-one nonfiction TV series on cable. The show received more mentions on Facebook in 2012 than any other TV series, including “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Downton Abbey.” While some reviewers have expressed Homecoming Magazine May/June 2013 surprise at its popularity, the show’s broad appeal is no shocker to anyone who appreciates the richness of life in a big Southern family, complete with eye-rolling wives, crazy uncles and side-splitting humor induced by the harmless (well, mostly harmless) juvenile antics of a bunch of brothers goofing off in the woods — all held together by deep faith and blood-thick bonds. At the center of the good-natured mayhem is patriarch Phil Robertson, aka The Duck Commander. In a heart-to-heart conversation with fellow hunting afficionado and Homecoming favorite Jason Crabb, Robertson — who’s also the author of a soon-to-be-released book, Happy, Happy, Happy — tells “the rest of the story” beyond the glare of TV lights: his flat-broke beginnings, his walk with the Lord, and the timeless insights he shares with audiences that began in the dozens but now number in the millions.

JASON CRABB: Hey Phil, how are you buddy? I’m excited about meeting you and we are all excited about what God is doing in your life. Man, it’s just amazing! How did this all happen?

PHIL ROBERTSON: Gigantic doors have been opened, and we are like, “Whoa!” It started with a speech in New Orleans in the Superdome. They had invited me down to do a duck-calling seminar to show people how to use a duck call. About 1,000 people gathered and I was up in the bleachers and they were down a little lower. I was standing under a sign that said, “Budweiser, King of Beers” and I gave them the duck call demonstration that lasted about 20 minutes. And I said, “I tell you what, folks. Based on my observation of America over the last 30 or 40 years, I guess that y’all thought I was a preacher by the way I looked.”

JASON: Hahaha!

PHIL: They all laughed, and actually I said, “I’m not a preacher, but I’m fixin’ to preach every last one of you here a little sermon.” I reached in my bag and I brought out my Bible, and you would have thought that somebody had shot over their heads, because it got real quiet in a hurry. So I preached the Gospel. And listen, when I did that to that group, some came up after and said, “Mr. Robertson, that took some gall on just a public gathering of outdoor people. It certainly is not a church building.” And I said, “Well I figured I owed you that.” So several more at the event asked me if I would come to their churches and do the same speech.


PHIL: Then the phone started ringing off the wall—and listen, that went nationwide so fast with people, I couldn’t even make it to them all. So that’s what I’ve done the last two decades. Then the Outdoor Channel show came along, and then the reality-TV show, and it just kept getting bigger. It went from small groups that I was preaching to, then large groups, to now literally millions because the show created an audience.

Now I have about a three-month schedule where I’m going around to all these universities, big churches and outdoor functions. I can just pull out my Bible and say, “Now you think you’ve seen “Duck Dynasty,” but here’s the rest of the story.”

JASON: That is so awesome! So awesome!

PHIL: Many have already been converted and these places are calling back now and saying, “25 accepted Jesus here, and 50 there and 200 for the Lord. So hey, that’s kind of the idea behind it, my man. We’re fixin’ to try and turn this whole thing around. Hey, Jesus turned it around with 12 men in the Roman Empire, so why not turn this country around?

JASON: I’m telling you, and you’ve got four million followers on your Facebook page right now. You’re probably the most talked about TV production there is. Period.

PHIL: You have to remember something. That’s what they’re telling me, but I’ve never owned a cell phone and I’ve never turned on a computer or been on Facebook, so when they give me information like that, I actually don’t know what it is.

JASON: Haha! That’s OK.

PHIL: Man, if I’m on it, I don’t know how I got on it! A lot of people say, “You’re crazy! You don’t know what you’re missing by not having a cell phone or using a computer!” But you see, I do know what I’m missing. I’ve chosen to miss it!

JASON: That’s amazing. You’re witnessing to more people than preachers will ever think about ministering to, and it’s a livelihood for you, and that’s what’s cool. It’s a livelihood.

PHIL: Someone asked me, “Robertson, do you feel any anxiety or nervousness or butterflies when you stand before these crowds that are getting bigger and bigger, thousands of them now?” I said, “Actually, I have learned that you must love them more than you fear them, and if you love them enough, there will be no nervousness, no anxiety and no fear. None. So that’s what’s carried me through. I’ve just loved them more than I’ve feared them.

JASON: That is amazing! So this new book that you’ve got coming out, Happy, Happy, Happy! — what can we expect?

PHIL: It’s a book about me and the reason I did it is that after I would go to a group and I would give them the speech I told you about, every time without fail, people would come up and say, “Mr. Robertson, would you write that speech down in book form? Can I buy what you just said?” I just replied, “Well, that’s a good question. I really haven’t thought about that.” Then they said, “Well, why don’t you write a book?” And after a while my wife, who is my traveling companion, and then my sister and my fellow workers said, “Phil, you ought to write a book because so many people want you to write one.” So that’s how the idea about the book came to be.

JASON: There are a lot of people out there who are looking for the next … you know, they may be frustrated business-wise, or they’re frustrated in knowing what their purpose in life is … trying to find themselves. And I think men especially have a tough time dealing with that if they lose their sense of purpose. What would you say to someone like that?

PHIL: I would just simply say that when the naysayers come along and you choose a particular vocation, lifestyle, job or whatever … then you say everybody has a gift at something. I’ve long said that everybody on this earth has something, or God wouldn’t have done what He did through Jesus. Everybody is worth something. Every one of us. So the trick is finding out what your gift is. It may be janitorial work, but you just have to make it your goal to be the best janitor on the face of the earth. In my case, I told my wife one time — you know I earned a Master’s degree from Louisiana Tech, and when I got out, I taught school for three or four years — I told Miss Kay, “I have this gnawing at me. You see this duck call here? I know it will work because it just sounds closer to a duck than the rest of them. I need to get this and market it. I want to leave teaching school, and I want to build this duck call, but we’re going to have to survive while I’m building this duck call. So what I’m going to do is fish the Ouachita River, and I’m going to catch buffalo and catfish and we’re going to scrape by for a few years until this duck call thing gets going. But trust me, in the end this will work, and you will have that long green in your pocket if you will just stay with me.”

She’s looking at me, saying, “How long is it going to take?” And I said, “I don’t know, but it will work.” And she looked in my eyes and said, “Let’s do it.” I said, “Find me a spot on the river and I’ll fish the river and I’ll figure out a way to get the duck call built.” And that’s exactly what we did. We moved to the river, she found the spot. “What about this one?” I’d say, “Nah, there’s too many houses around.” So we’d go to another one. Finally we pulled in down there and the real estate woman said, “Mr. Robertson, what do you think?” Well, I looked at the watermark on those trees and the yard of where that house was and the watermark was up like five feet on the trees. I said, “Let me ask you this. Does it flood in here?” She said, “Mr. Robertson, I’m not going to lie to you. This area floods a lot.” I said, “Well the only way I’ll take it is if it floods.” She said, “You want it to flood?” I said, “It has to flood ’cause that’s good for fishin’!” She said, “Mr. Robertson, you’re going to love this place!”

So I live where the water comes up in your yard and up under your house, then it slows and we move all our stuff up and the water recedes and we all go back. Lo and behold, I started fishing the river, and many people at that time were seeing what I was doing. They said, “Let’s see. You’re the guy with the Master’s degree who is hustling these buffalo and catfish. You’re getting 30 cents a pound on the buffalo, and 70 cents a pound on the catfish. Are you an idiot?” So I was an idiot … and you fast forward 30 or 40 years, and now they think I’m a genius.

So to answer your question: Just set a goal in your mind, something that you can do, and be the best you can be. Offer prayers to God to help you out as you go forth and never look back. You’ve got to remember that I never said, “If the blessings come Lord, I’m going to love You more.” What I told the Almighty is, “I trust You, I love You, and trust me Lord, I’m perfectly content in whatever situation I’m in. I learned that from the old Apostle Paul. So if the blessings don’t come, I’ll still be faithful to You. So don’t worry about that. I’m with You.” As it turned out, the blessings did come, but I wouldn’t have deserted Him anyway.

So that’s pretty much the quick story of my mindset back then, at least, and still now. The only difference is that now and back then, the contentment has been there all along. To put it bluntly, life is a little more hectic than I would rather it be. However hectic it is, it gives me the opportunity to preach the Gospel, which is overriding all of it. And I’m charging forward like a bull in a china closet and thousands or hundreds of thousands are hearing the Gospel … who knows? We’re just gonna trust the Almighty and move forward, my man.

JASON: Well, I can’t thank you enough for the work that you are doing. And the cool thing is that you’re living your life out. People are seeing it and they are just intrigued about the message of Jesus Christ living in you. I’m just so thankful for you.

PHIL: We’re dealing with a culture that has gone south and where ungodliness has become the norm. Godliness, especially on a reality show, is really a novel idea. And yes, at times we’re crude, but we’re not lewd or vile and all of that stuff. That’s not there. But if we came across as prudish, that would just hurt the cause of the Gospel. We are basically a rootsy, very country people; we were raised very poor. Let’s face it, I’m sort of proud of having my redneck roots.

JASON: Absolutely.

PHIL: But it just shows people that it doesn’t make any difference where you started or your roots, or your heritage, or your ethnic background or all that. Black, white, yellow or all these different labels they have for people—my message is, just be godly. Everything else will work out and the whole country and the world itself will be way better off.

JASON: How did you meet the Lord? How did that happen?

PHIL: Miss Kay lined that up. I was 28 before I even knew what the Gospel was. That’s a shocker of shocks, although we had been raised up in church. But most people feel like if they go Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, they feel like they’ve done it. The problem with that model is that your culture can literally disintegrate around you as you’re busily going to church, and as the Bible would say, you never have any leavening effect, or experience being light or salt. You would never get it out into the culture around you. Because let’s face it. Most people won’t go to church buildings, so at some point, my opinion is we have to go forth and mix and mingle with the people. With all the heathen and all the cursing and all the hurt in the world, we just have to show them a better way by being with them wherever they are. I build duck calls for a living, and I just used building duck calls and the hunting world. That’s where it started. I just used that as a platform to get the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus preached to the people around me. You understand what I’m saying?

JASON: That’s awesome! I’ve read that football was a big part of your early life — and that you could have been a player in the NFL! But, I think your story was something like you saw some birds flying overhead and you thought, I’d just rather be doing that. Have you ever looked back on that decision to not play football?

PHIL: Well, I recently talked to Terry Bradshaw, and I hadn’t seen him in 40 years since we both left Tech. My parting words to him then were, “Bradshaw, you want to play football, don’t you?” He said “Man, I want to do it more than anything I’ve ever wanted to do in my life. That is my goal!” And I’m sitting in the locker room and I said, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I don’t want to play professional football. Large, violent men chasing me around and stomping me in the dirt just does not … I think it’s a more stressful life than I am contemplating. What I want to do is stay here, hunt ducks standing in water in those big overcut trees with mallards raining down on me. The squirrels and the deer and all, that’s what I want to do more than playing football. So what I’m going to do is I’m stepping out, and you’re immediately going to be stepping up because you’re a second stringer right now, ain’t ya?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well I’m stepping out, and you’re going to be first string. Go play professional football and I’m going to go hunt ducks. When we meet up again, we will talk about it.”

So 40-something years later, I’m in the LAX airport and somebody grabs me from behind, I look around and it’s old Bradshaw. He said, “Robertson, do you remember the talk we had in the locker room?” I said, “I remember it. You’ve done well, my boy! You’ve won four Super Bowls!” He said, “You’ve done pretty well yourself!” I said, “Well, nothing has been broken or torn up. You got any injuries?” And he went through his injury list and I didn’t think he was ever going to get to the end of it.

He had turned into a great football player, and we were discussing that in the airport, and up walked Joe Montana! So here’s Bradshaw, and here’s me, the guy that went after the ducks over football, and here comes Montana — another great — and his wife. She grabbed me and said, “Oh my!” And she said about their children, “They love your show, Mr. Robertson — we’re so thankful!” So to answer your question, in the grand scheme of things, I found the Lord and the vocation I chose to do. When you get that, everything else kind of pales in comparison. You say, “Nope, I made the right choice.” Because who knows what would have happened if I would have gone the other way?

JASON: And even with that choice you now have a lot of influence with people in the sports world, even though you’re not in it!

PHIL: There are a lot of the sports people who watch the show and they contact us, but I’m never involved when they contact us, because I’m just told about it. My other sons, all of them, Alan and Jason, Willy and Jeff, they are all on computers and they tell me all this stuff. But y’all got to remember that I’m down in the woods, and here’s the way our deal works. I said, “Boys, I sired every one of you. Without me, y’all wouldn’t be here. Y’all were birthed out of Miss Kay’s loins. Take the business. Run with it, and remember this — send me a check every month. And as long as that check is coming in, I know business is good. So don’t be bothering me down in there.” I’m just not there in the day-to-day routine, you see?

JASON: Well, you’ve got a sweet woman there, that’s for sure. We love your family, we love what’s going on and we applaud you.

PHIL: Are you a hunter?

JASON: Absolutely, I love to hunt, but I’ve never been duck hunting before. Ever.

PHIL: Are you married to a yuppie woman or a country girl?

JASON: Hahaha. She’s a country girl. She’s a Kentucky girl, from Mecklenberg County.

PHIL: Yeah look, the codes down in these parts is if she knows how to cook, she carries her Bible and lives by it, and she picks your ducks, then marry that.

JASON: Amen to that, sir!

PHIL: A lot of them call me, and they say, “Well what about one out of three?” I say, “One out of three’s a start, but if they can cook, carry their Bible and pick your ducks, then what do you want? Good night, marry that one!”

JASON: Absolutely. Thank you so much, and I can’t wait to meet you someday. I travel and I sing gospel music. That’s what I do.

PHIL: Stay in touch and let’s work up a deal where y’all come down and play some of your music on an episode or something, and I’ll take you duck hunting for the first time. You never know with these story lines.

JASON: Oh, that would be awesome. I just love what I’m doing, and I love what y’all are doing and like yourself, I’m doing exactly what I’m called to be doing, what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m seeing results and praying for people. It can’t get more fulfilling than that.

PHIL: Well, we appreciate it now. Hey, y’all pray for me as I go forward. Don’t forget that.