By Michael Ashcraft —
Phil Robertson was good at football — good enough to start ahead of NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw — but the ace quarterback preferred hunting ducks over hunting receivers, so he ducked the NFL draft despite being the #1 overall pick.
Plus, he picked up the nasty habit of drinking at Louisiana Tech University and he ran a bar with his young bride whom he married when they were minors. With beer in the mix and anger and churlishness, the Robertsons were (excuse the pun) dead ducks.
“I was on my way to being a bone to be chewed,” Phil recounts in his Deep South drawl.
But a Bible preacher came in the bar. And that was the beginning of the million-dollar duck commander and the reality TV series Duck Dynasty which ran for 11 seasons on A&E. Today, Phil and fam are perhaps the quirkiest of Christian icons.
Phil was raised in Monroe, Louisiana, amidst poverty of the 1950s that he said looked more like the 1850s. They lived in log house, with no commode, no bathtub and no Coca-Cola.
“I never heard anyone say we were poor, not once,” Phil explains. “No one ever said man we are really up against it here. I wonder why somebody done bail us out.”
He met Marsha Carroway (whom he calls affectionately “Miss Kay”) when she was 14 and married her when she was 16 or 17.
“There’s an old saying in the South that if you marry them when they’re about 15 or 16, they’ll pick your ducks, if you wait then they get to be 20, they’ll pick your pocket.”
Phil has a brain surgeon’s precision for throwing pinpoint passes, so he got a full scholarship to Louisiana Tech University, where he outplayed Terry Bradshaw. Ultimately, hunting ducks was more of a draw than fame and he dropped out of football, not before learning to get drunk with the guys.
“Phil, who had never drank before, started drinking and what happened with me was it was scary to me,” says Miss Kay. To their first son Alan, Jason and Willie were added and the prospect of a wild living father was unsettling.
“I owned a beer joint when some guy came in with a Bible, and he wanted to introduce me to Jesus.” Phil says. “I ran him away. I said, ‘Get out of here.’”
The circle of his problems expanded. He got into a barroom brawl and went into the woods for three months to hide out from the law. He was becoming more and more mean-spirited.
“I would tell my boys all the time, ‘That’s not your daddy, that’s the devil in your daddy,’” Miss Kay says.
Next, Phil ran off his wife and kids.
“That was the low point,” he says. “You’re all alone and miserable. That’s when I began to seriously contemplate a way out of all this.”
Moping and gloomy, he looked up the wife he’d run off, and Miss Kay suggested he look up the Bible guy who dared to enter his bar.
“Why don’t you sit down with him and just see what he has to say?” she says.
Honestly, Phil didn’t know what the gospel was. He thought it was some kind of music.
As the preacher explained, “I was blown away when I heard that Jesus died for me and was buried and raised from the dead,” Phil says. “It was something so simple but profound.”
Miss Kay got home to see a note that her husband was at church.
“When we got into the auditorium, I just stopped because there he was up in the baptistry with a man,” she says. “The boys started hollering and singing, jumping all over the place, and they said, ‘My daddy‘s saved! My daddy’s saved!’ They were so happy. Tears were rolling down their eyes.”
Phil was tired of the cesspool life.
“I’m gonna make Jesus the Lord of my life,” he pledged to his family. “I want to follow Him from this day forward. I’m turning from my sinful past and I am fixing to make a valiant attempt to be good.”
After running the bar, Phil got into commercial fishing. He had problems with the “River Rats” who kept stealing his fish (in nets left at certain points on the river, as allowed by his commercial fishing license).
The old Phil would roar up in his boat at full speed with his shotgun drawn. But the new Phil read in his Bible to do good to your enemies and pray for those who persecute and not to return evil for evil.
This was a quandary. But Phil had made up his mind to love God and his neighbor as himself. How would he put that into practice?
“Fishing was my livelihood,” he remembers. “I was working my tail off.”
He felt the Lord tell him: “They’re hungry. Feed these River Rats.”
“So one day I heard a motor slowed down and these guys pull over to my float and I’m watching them through the bushes,” he recalls. “So I said, ‘I’m gonna be good to them.’ But I’m carrying my gun just in case they’re not good to me. ‘And I’m gonna do what the Lord said.’”
He started his engine and motored out from behind the bushes.
“What were you boys doing with that net?”
“Oh, is that what that was?” one responded.
“Yeah, that be a hook there. It belongs to me,” he continued. “Here’s the good news. I’m gonna raise the net and whatever is in there, I’m gonna give them to you.”
The caught culprits looked guiltily at each other.
From then on, the River Rats stopped stealing his fish.
After doing commercial fishing, Phil invented his million-dollar idea. He was dissatisfied with duck calls on the market, so he invested $8,000 to invent a better one in 1972.
Miss Kay wasn’t impressed. She worried about marketing duck calls. “We are gonna starve to death.”
“No, we’ll be alright,” he replied.
His duck calls made millions of dollars.
“I am giving the credit to God Almighty in heaven for the duck call sales,” he says.
That’s when A&E called to start a reality show, which were all the rage with in-fighting. The Robertson weren’t much given to in-fighting. So what was produced was new and different. And it succeeded. Duck Dynasty ran from 2012 to 2017, with its highest viewership at 11.8 million viewers.
The program brought prominence to Phil, who went from bearded backwater redneck to conservative Christian folk hero. When he mentioned homosexuality as a sin, liberals tried to cancel his show, but the man from West Monroe remained unfazed.
“We’ve gone public with our faith, and when you do that you’re going to get attacked,” Phil says. “We’re all sinners, the difference is when we mess up, we’re honest about it, we’re truthful and we use that as a way to show people how to overcome adversity and trust in God.”
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In addition to writing Christian news articles, Michael Ashcraft helps people retirement planning, debt solutions, tax minimization and living trusts.