Who’d have thought a No. 1 show on cable television would close each week with a prayer — around a family dinner table.
At one point, the A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty” ruled the ratings. Its beards are still ubiquitous. Its stars, the Robertson family, are everywhere, from bobbleheads to, of course, their Duck Commander duck calls and Buck Commander hunting gear. Millions of viewers tune in weekly to watch the Southern charms and redneck misadventures of the Duck Commander crew. And each week those millions watch three generations of the Robertson clan gather around a large dinner table and offer thanks to God.
The Robertson family has built a multimillion-dollar empire on its duck calls, but they’ve left no doubt that the family’s foundation is built on faith — and good food shared at family mealtimes.
Spiritual rags to riches
All things “Duck Dynasty” start with patriarch, Phil, and matriarch, Miss Kay. Phil set out to build a better duck call back in 1972 on the family’s property outside West Monroe, La. That move would prove to change the Robertsons’ financial trajectory, but an earlier decision affected the family even more dramatically.
“Before he was a Christian, it was all about Phil,” Miss Kay says. “He went hunting when he wanted to go hunting; he went drinking and carousing whenever it suited him.”
It suited him for most of his 20s. The young family struggled, and Miss Kay eventually turned to Christ and found loving support and faith. Finally, during a drinking binge, Phil kicked Kay and their three sons out of the house. He wanted nothing to do with any “Holy Rollers.”
Miss Kay says, “The main adjustment I made during those years was one I learned from my granny: Fight for your marriage and your man.”
Three months later, Phil contacted Kay, crying for forgiveness and asking for his family back. Miss Kay applied some tough love: She would take him back only if he quit drinking, gave up his party crowd and met with her pastor. Not long after, Phil gave his life to Jesus. And the Robertson family turned around.
“As my heart and mind have been shaped and changed by the Almighty, I’ve become a much less selfish man and now understand the gem of a woman I have in Miss Kay,” Phil says. “Cherishing the one you’re married to and considering their needs above your own have assured that our marriage sticks together.”
Love, respect and working together
Duck Commander was a family business from the start. Phil took his duck calls store to store to sell to retailers, but the entire manufacturing process took place at the Robertson house. Miss Kay handled accounts, and all four boys — Alan (now the only beardless brother and the newest addition to the show), Jase, Willie and Jep — helped by taking phone messages, assembling duck calls and packing orders.
The third Robertson son, Willie, married Korie when they were just 19 and 18. The couple scraped by on a tight budget, and each week at the grocery store, the newlywed college students fought over the few remaining dollars in the food allowance. “In the beginning, we didn’t always know how to be respectful to each other, but after we each made the decision to respect, our relationship grew in every way,” Korie says.
Twenty-two years and five kids later, Willie and Korie have a bit more experience. And while the couple — and the whole family — may banter on “Duck Dynasty,” their love and respect show through.
Willie and Korie eventually bought half of Duck Commander, and Willie now serves as CEO. “Working together as a family when Duck Commander was a new, barely known business kept us connected daily, but it also taught us a strong work ethic and how to resolve conflicts,” Willie says.
It was also the perfect setting for Willie’s entrepreneurial spirit. Duck Commander already had a cult following, but Willie and Korie launched websites and developed new partnerships in the hunting and entertainment industries.
Although “Duck Dynasty” has put their family life in the spotlight, Willie and Korie are still purposeful about rooting their kids in family fun and faith, even when the cameras aren’t rolling. “Making sure our kids spend time with our extended families, as well as with our church family, is where connection begins,” Korie says. “And maybe most important, we try to speak and show our love for church and family in our own home.”
The Robertsons have always loved food. “No matter how poor we were, our family came together around the dinner table, and everyone pitched in to make sure we had something to put on that table,” Willie says.
Sometimes that was fish, duck, squirrel or frog.
“Good food has always had the power of bringing people together,” Phil says. “When you add in a continual thankfulness to the Almighty for whatever blessings He’s provided, you create a time of openness, communication and fun storytelling.”
Those family dinners make more than a convenient ending to a TV show — they represent reminders of the Robertson family’s heritage and hopes.
“The foremost dream that all of us have for future Robertsons is that they know Jesus Christ and trust Him as their savior, living their lives according to godly principles,” Willie says. “Second, we want them to be true to their families — to love, respect and support each other.”
And that’s the kind of dynasty that will last.
Jeremy V. Jones is a contributing writer for Thriving Family and the author of The Action Bible Devotional.