Ducks. That’s the name of the game for the A&E hit series Duck Dynasty. More specifically how to get a flock of ducks to turn and head in the general direction of decoys so that several bearded men can blast them out of the sky by using a duck call designed with the most capable hands of the Duck Commander himself, Phil Robertson. I have never had a duck to my knowledge, and yet? I seem to have picked up the passion of Duck Dynasty. It’s very contagious. In the world of reality TV however, trends come and go and it remains to be seen whether this family will hold on to the madness of this particular niche within the realm of cable TV. My guess is, after getting to know this family a little bit more from Phil’s Autobiography entitled “Happy, Happy, Happy,” the ride will end…. when the Robertson Clan says it will end and not a moment sooner. Headquarters seems to be pleased with this clan, and rightly so (you will have to read the book to understand the role of HQ in Phil’s life).
“Happy, Happy, Happy” is a fantastic mix of old school, almost ancient practices (timeless even), modern day accoutrements that for all intensive purposes are only in Phil’s life because it has been forced upon him to modernize (even just a little bit) along with heart rending drama that only family can provide while attempting (and succeeding) to survive.
First and foremost, the number one revelation in “Happy, Happy, Happy” is the singular fact that Phil would not be on this ride if it were not for Kay. Of that I absolutely know he would agree.
The role of Alcohol and addiction in Phil’s life was tantamount to disaster. It was deep enough to reach into the lives of his children, long after Phil himself achieved recovery. Not only did it cripple him but it crippled several of his sons. One, the oldest boy Alan, was forced to leave the family for a time as he had become a detriment to the livelihood of the family. Jep, the youngest, fell off the deep end as well and in true Robertson fashion, they handled it as a family. One of the most gut wrenching passages in the book, as it has to do with Jep’s intervention, is one for the ages and exemplifies the Robertson clan and their loyalty to each other in a way rarely seen in this day and age of public intoxication, Rehab Divas and Bad Boy behavior in order to gain ratings and street credibility.
“I’ll never forget what Jep said next. He looked up at me and asked, ‘Dad, all I want to ask you is what took you so long to rescue me?’ After Jep said that to me, everyone in the room was crying.
‘You still have a choice,’ I told him.
'Well, my choice is I want to come home,’ He said.
Jase has always been our most straitlaced son, so he was the hardest on Jep when he strayed.
‘Son, you can’t hang out with those people,’ Jase told him.
‘Daddy won’t let em get to me,’ Jep said.
‘Daddy won’t and we won’t either.’ Jase promised him.
Alan was so distressed by his little brother’s struggles that he left our house, drove down the road, and then stopped and dropped to his knees and wept in a field.”
My point in even sampling this passage is to balance the idea that the Robertson clan is “Happy, Happy, Happy” at this point in life....BECAUSE of the huge hurdles they have had to overcome. Their “Happy, Happy, Happy" was most definitely won through blood, sweat and tears. These men come from a different time, a different place and a different mentality with regards to living life. They are fiercely dependent on no authority save One, because at times, He is all they had to rely upon and they aren't afraid to admit that.
The wealth of the Robertsons, more specifically that of Phil and Kay, is not about any sort of dreams associated with grandeur, owning cars and propagating a social status among the elites of Hollywood. From the impression Phil gives, there is no way he would even consider a Clampett style move and lifestyle change. Wealth to Phil, or so it seems to me, is a response to the deep poverty that this family, from generations on back, have been forced to survive.
We are not talking about a poverty level based on today’s measures. There were no food stamps, government sponsored cell phones, RTD tokens and gas vouchers. There were no LEAP applications, income adjusted loans nor low income housing. There was no government assistance through WIC for Kay and the boys when Phil went off the deep end. There were no Social Workers checking on Kay to see if she had shoes for the kids or enough food for any given day. Affordable housing loans, unemployment benefits, commodity shopping…all were non existent to the Robertson clan. Dirt poor is the level of poverty we are talking about. Dirt poor, referencing the absence of flooring in houses at that time, was a state that they lived….but it wasn’t the state of mind that the Robertsons lived within. Phil, when healthy and sober, was a master of his land, a king living off the bounty of creation. And, they lived well off that bounty. Some of the mental images Phil so masterfully describes, are breathtaking. He describes a scene where literally thousands of ducks, hunkered down in a massive duck oasis, are ripe for the picking...er....shooting. And then there is the filling and the draining of his swamp/grasslands. Phil could create a swamp at will when necessary and when unnecessary, massive grass and tree lands. I can barely manage a meager garden let alone the scope of what he is talking about controlling in the wetlands of his youth and middle age.
Phil took me on a time warp in all actuality. I flashed immediately back to my childhood, looking at my great grandmother on my father’s side of the family while listening to her discussions about canning. Chow Chow comes to mind almost immediately, as it struck me as such a funny name as a child. But it stuck with me in that, it represented something very specific, my grandmother and her way of life. If I also bring my grandmother from my mother's side into the picture, our education about canning goes back generations. They could and did can everything in those nifty mason jars that now seem to only show up in local bars trying to be “old school.” We grew up eating out of those. Pickles, I remember the most. And beets. Do you know beets can be made into Jam? It is extraordinarily tasty. Preserves beyond compare in all the various fruits and sweets imaginable were stacked neatly on shelves at the home of my raising. Phil lists out the many plethora of things he has seen canned like Bubba did shrimp while bending Forrest's ear.
This is the power of the Robertsons and the spell they have over the country. It is the power of a living memory. The Robertsons are record keepers and the avenue upon which Phil drives the story of “Happy, Happy, Happy” is timeless memory. The appeal is simplicity. There is honesty in working with hands. There is honesty in craftsmanship and there is honesty is earning what you think you may be owed. Ashton Kushtner recently gave a speech containing one of the simplest and yet profoundly "right" statements coming out of Hollywood since Tom Hanks blessed the world with Forrest Gump. Life is like a box of chocolates…so DEAL! Anyways, Kushtner told the world that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. Phil Robertson would agree wholeheartedly.
Phil is the epitome of a self made man. Phil has his ideas on what a “manly man” is, and lord knows I disagree with some of the perceptions he gives with regards to gender stereotypes. But then again, I haven’t had to walk in his shoes, nor did I have to deal with the cold hard reality of the life he and his family had to deal with growing up in the generation he had to grow up in. It was survival. Hands down, above anything else, Phil and Kay are survivors. I have a feeling that if Phil were asked to give an honest answer as to who wears the proverbial pants in the family, if you ask him at the right time and on the right day, he would most likely say Kay. She is the glue that has held and continues to hold this clan together. There is a strength to Kay that goes well beyond the TV show. There was a point in their past life, before Phil repented of his lawless deeds (as he puts it) back when he was a fugitive, when Kay had to make the heartbreaking decision to leave Phil. He was a drunk and getting deeper into the drinking lifestyle by the day. He had become a danger to himself and to his family. Not only was he a train wreck waiting to happen, he was bringing his young wife and children along with him. So she left him. And Phil? He quit the sauce. He chose Kay and family over the bottle. A fine fine choice that has blessed the world.
Phil is definitely an adequate story teller, but it isn't exactly the telling that makes it work. It is the story itself that makes this book so special. There is a balance in this book (that I am certain was the purpose) to offset the humor and the silliness that the “Reality” show portrays as “normal” life for the Robertson clan. It was hard fought and almost lost before it even started.
Ducks however, are the passion and once Phil gets going on Ducks, you either fall in love with Duck lore or you hate it. When Phil gets to talking about Ducks he doesn't stop. I myself, fell in love with Ducks and I have yet to try one. But I will, of that I am certain.
Men like these are to be reckoned with as they have an inner identity that cannot be touched by wealth, sex, and high living in accordance with the Hollywood mantra of “take all you can no matter who you damage in the process.” Perhaps the success of the Robertson clan, the Patriarch specifically, can be summed up in a simple statement of success taken from his book.
“Even though Duck Commander faced difficult times and what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, we stayed the course and never gave up. I’ve always believed that if we did what was morally and ethically right, while continuing to steadfastly believe in what we were doing, we’d end up okay in the end. As long as we gave our best, continued to build products we believed in, and never strayed from God’s purpose for us, I knew Duck Commander would find a way to persevere.”