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I don’t want to mention names, but a lot of what’s on reality TV today is people gossiping, backbiting, cheating and being mean to each other. But not on our show. Duck Dynasty is about the family I married into, the Robertson clan, who make world-class duck calls.
We try to present something different for our viewers. We do have our disagreements, but every episode ends with a meal and a prayer, and in between we have a lot of laughs.
In fact, the first time we sat down as a family to watch Duck Dynasty we laughed so hard at ourselves that we could hardly hear the TV.
Our show is about ducks, fishing, beards, good eating—and the values that keep a family together. After 21 years of being a Robertson, there are some great life lessons I have learned.
1. Support each other.
They say we court young in the South. I met my husband, Willie, when we were in third grade, at Camp Ch-Yo-Ca. His mom, Miss Kay, was the camp cook that summer and her boys attended the camp for free.
Willie had big dimples and the cutest sideways smile. I had a diary that I never used much, but that summer I wrote, “Met a boy at summer camp and he was so cute. He asked me on the moonlight hike and I said yes!”
As my father-in-law, Phil, likes to say, I’m a city girl. The “big city” I grew up in was West Monroe, Louisiana, population 13,000.
The Robertsons lived out in the country on the Ouachita River. That’s where Phil launched his duck-call business, Duck Commander (“Phil, you didn’t call that duck. You commanded it,” claimed a friend, hence the name). They still live out there.
The first time I visited was with a church group when I was in fifth grade. I was surprised that the house was so tiny. Kay didn’t even have a dishwasher, but she cooked for the Duck Commander employees every day along with her four hungry sons. She spent practically her entire day in the kitchen.
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The business was struggling, but that didn’t stop Phil from bragging about his sons. “Have you met my boys?” he asked me. “They’ll make good providers someday.” How could he have known that back then?
Willie and I didn’t start dating seriously until my senior year of high school. He had an orange 1980 Mustang with torn white leather seats and lived in a rented house in town with six other guys.
I loved to drop by in the mornings and Willie would make me fancy omelets for breakfast. He was a great cook then (he still is), and I could hardly make a thing (and still can’t).
When we first decided to get married, my parents weren’t thrilled. They were afraid I would drop out of school, start having kids and never go to college. Then they saw how committed we were. They supported us all the way—something that runs in both our families.
2. Work works.
For years, the entire Duck Commander operation was run out of that little house. Willie and his brothers helped with everything. They would sand and stain duck calls, dip them in polyurethane, pack them up for shipping.
It used to embarrass Willie when he would go to school with his fingers brown from tung oil. The boys also took the orders, because people called the house to place them. Whoever took the order would just grab a napkin or paper plate and write it down.
There would be a big stack of paper plates or napkins sitting on the kitchen counter with orders on them. It may have been a rudimentary system, but it worked.
If Willie wanted anything, he had to work for it. He still talks about the cool parachute pants that he bought in high school with money he made selling worms.
In our young married days, with both of us going to college, he did tons of extra jobs: working at a bowling alley, as a janitor for a real-estate agency, in an ice-cream plant (he hated being in the freezer all day).
I finished college with a degree in art education and helped out by hand-painting a limited edition of duck calls while our babies slept.
Even today, with business booming, our children know that when we say, “All right, kids, it’s family cleanup time” or “family wash-the-car time” or “family clean-out-the-garage time,” it’s nonnegotiable. You just do it because you are part of the family. The family that works together stays together.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
The Robertsons tease each other all the time. It’s a sign of affection, but it does take some getting used to. One time I burned the dinner bread and felt terrible about it. Now everybody jokes that you know dinner is ready at our house when you hear me scraping the bread.
Like I said, I’m no great cook, but Kay, who truly is, once fried the shrimp at Christmas a tad too long. They came out dark brown and rubbery. Every Christmas the guys ask her if she’s going to serve rubber shrimp again. Even Kay still laughs at that joke.
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In the early days, Kay also made sure that the Duck Commander business was a fun place to work. If it was somebody’s birthday, she cooked the birthday boy or girl’s favorite meal for lunch. There were always a lot of laughs.
Duck Commander is still a fun place. We take our work seriously, but not ourselves.
4. There’s always room for one more.
I learned this from both of our families. Willie and I had two kids, John Luke and Sadie, when we decided to adopt a baby. I’d always been inspired by the verse that says true religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).
We had a friend who was teaching a class for pregnant teenagers, some of whom were putting their babies up for adoption. We filled out the paperwork and the adoption agency called us. They showed us this picture of a baby boy and we fell in love like that! We named him Will.
Just a few weeks after the adoption I found out I was pregnant. Our Bella is 10 months younger than Will.
It was pretty crazy for a while. If the two of them were left alone for a moment, they’d squeeze toothpaste out of the tube and smear it all over the bathroom mirror or dump the cereal out of the boxes. I used to carry them both at once, one on each hip, just to keep them out of trouble.
We weren’t quite finished, though. We welcomed Rebecca, an exchange student from Taiwan, into our home during her junior year of high school. She ended up staying with us and going to college here in the States. We consider ourselves her American mom and dad.
She has now been with us eight years. We also support an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The Robertsons didn’t always have a lot, but they made a place at the table for someone who needed a good meal or a listening ear.
5. Put your best face on at home.
Kay has been a great example of this. She works really hard at her marriage to make it fun and to make Phil happy. She writes little notes for Phil even after all these years, and he does special little things for her too. It’s not give and take. It’s give and give.
Many people go to work and give their all to the outside world, but at home they’re negative or griping or just plain dull. They leave their best selves at the office. We try to make every day at our house like a homecoming. That way our kids know that home is where you should be the happiest.
6. Trust that the Lord will provide.
We are more successful than we ever dreamed. But if it all disappeared tomorrow we would be okay, because we would still have our faith in God. It’s what allows us to forgive each other, love each other and listen to each other.
Neither Phil nor Kay will let us forget how God kept Duck Commander afloat in those rough early days. Once a bank payment was due and Kay told Phil that they simply did not have the $800 they needed. “Let’s go and check the mailbox,” Phil suggested. “Maybe there will be a check in there.”
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Kay knew differently. No one owed them anything and they owed the bank $800. Reluctantly she walked with Phil to the mailbox. There they discovered an envelope postmarked Japan. It was an order for duck calls with a check for $800.
Duck Commander had never sold a duck call to Japan before, but somehow at the time when Phil and Kay needed it, the Lord provided.
As Willie says, having faith that the Lord will provide is the only way you can ever be successful in this world. It gives you the courage to take risks.
You have to be willing to fail while working your tail off to succeed. You have to believe in what you’re doing and keep your faith in who you are. That’s the reality behind our reality-TV show.
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