If you know anything about the Robertson family, you know that our road to national recognition has been a winding, off-the-beaten-path, country kind of road. It has definitely not all been easy, but God has been faithful through every twist and turn—even if we made a few U-turns or lost the map along the way. We've seen our share of rough weather and construction zones, speed bumps and potholes, but God has been faithful throughout the journey.
Reflecting on the Journey
Recently Mom and I were sitting on the front porch, reminiscing about how good God has been to our family. We chatted about babies and grandkids, weddings and birthday parties, and the ever-present hunting trips. Mom laughed about the antics of the kids, while I shared happy memories of simpler days, running barefoot down country roads. In the midst of this sentimental journey, I was once again reminded of how God has used our family in the lives of weary travelers on the road of life.
As we sat on the porch drinking our sweet tea and lemonade, we looked out over the green grass of mom’s front lawn. We saw the creek where dad baptized countless new believers, the country kitchen that was built to feed hungry workers and friends, and the millions of memories that fill our family land to the brim. But most of all, we saw the spot upon which Duck Commander began—the very place where we first felt God’s hand of blessing upon our family.
The First Leg of the Journey
Mom and Dad have had two business attempts over the years, the first of which was to run a bar, on the Arkansas-Louisiana line. Someone offered them the bar and Dad thought it was a way to get rich quick. Since the location was surrounded by dry counties, it had the possibility to be lucrative, but God had other plans. Within eighteen months of opening shop, like a flash in the pan, the initial success of the bar quickly burned out.
Mom was never happy being a part of the liquor industry, and she made sure everyone knew it. “I went into the business under protest,” said Mom, as we reminisced in the warm afternoon air. “I didn’t want to do it, but I went back to my grandmother’s teaching of fighting for your marriage. I wasn’t going to lose my husband, and I knew that he was going to do it with or without me. I didn’t believe in the bar, but I believed in Phil. As the bar maid, I told everyone that came in our doors that I was a Christian, and I didn’t believe in bars. They always looked at me like I fell out of the tree! And maybe I did, but I didn’t mind them thinking I was a little crazy.”
Mind you, Mom and Dad were in their late twenties when they bought the bar; Dad was thinking about the success he would be and the money he would make. He was not thinking of long term financial planning initiatives. They just wanted a leg up. They were good people doing something that was charismatic. Mom wanted a different life for the family, but she ‘stood by her man.’ In the end, they lost all their money, got run out of the bar, and had nothing to show of it. They had hit a dead end and had no idea where to go next.
“All I ever wanted to be was a wife and mother and fight for my marriage,” said Mom. “But I couldn’t make it. I was at a horrible point and was so hopeless that all I wanted to do was sleep. I remember one day when I was especially depressed, God used my little boy to bring me back to my senses. I was crying in the bathroom when you knocked on the door and said ‘Momma don’t cry anymore. God’s going to take care of us.’ It was my wake up call. That was the moment when I started my quest to make my faith mine. I had told all those drunks in the bar that I was a Christian, but it was my grandmother’s faith. It wasn’t my own. That was when my life changed. God is always in the business of healing and restoration, no matter how bad the circumstances might be.”
Making a Lane Change
Soon after the bar went bust, Dad was gloriously saved! At that point, in keeping with Proverbs 3:5-6, there was a drastic lane change towards delighting in the Lord. Granted, our family was still a disaster; we had to start from scratch, but the veil was off, and life began to make sense. The bar had been a year and a half disaster without God; after that, there were years and years of hard work, but they were with God. Mom and Dad had to give themselves fully over to God before they could ever be successful. They had no idea what we would become as a family, but God did.
“Back in the early days, Phil gave so much to so many people,” Mom said as she lovingly remembered the countless people we ministered to in the first moments of their faith. “We fed thousands of people with free fish. We had nothing, but we gave what we had. I couldn’t be ‘southern hospitable’ because we were so rag tag! But you know what? We didn’t look at our stuff; we saw it as serving people because God told us to. We had the best fish and hushpuppies galore! It wasn’t much, but what we had we shared.”
In the midst of the struggle to survive, we began to realize that we could never out give God. Once the warehouse and production facility were moved to Duck Commander’s current location, on the very spot we assembled all those duck calls through those lean years, depending on God and nothing else, we built a country kitchen where we could continue to serve people meals, give hospitably, and love on our fellow men. It’s interesting that out of the wellspring of what became our internationally known family business grew a place of humble service. There is no better illustration of this beautiful reality than Philippians 4:11-13:
"For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
God be praised both in plenty and in need. In II Corinthians 12, Paul revels in his weakness, reminding us that strength is not the power, or the resurrection, or the great things that he had done, but the weakness of his humanity. By glorying in weakness, God gave us hope. In our difficulties we realize that we can do nothing apart from Christ.
In the year and a half at the bar, we were surviving; now we have 40-plus years under our belt with God on our side, and we are more than successful—we are in God’s will. We were in a place of need and want and nothing, but today we have so much. Mom and dad changed lanes at the beginning of their walk with Christ, and little has changed from those early moments. We’re still cruising down the highway in the center of God’s will.
Mom goes a bit deeper into this concept: “I sure know a bit about being strong in weakness and having little, less than a few pennies to rub together. When we left the bar and got on track with God, we struggled. Sometimes I try to put the memories of being a bar maid aside, but it was such a large part of our story. Looking back, the biggest lesson from those months as a bar maid was that circumstances do not dictate God’s power. That bar brought us heartache, but it led us straight down the road to a meeting with God. Phil and I had to get alone with Him, see ourselves in the light of His word, and submit to His will for our marriage and our family. Once we did that, we were still poor as church mice, but we had God and all the promises in His word. We had peace.”
In our family, in our business, and in our personal lives, we have seen that we have to rely on Christ. Life is lived in both the resurrection moments and the weak moments. The answer to both is Christ and his power. Better is a little with righteousness, than money and glory without. Laying up treasure in heaven is more important than stock portfolios and retirement plans. It’s not just mansions and fast cars. When we lay up treasures in heaven, we are building eternity. Heaven is forever.
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." Proverbs 16:8-9
Passengers on the Journey
Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the wedding of one of our faithful employees, Martin. Having been one of the family for many years, he is a large part of our TV show, as well. To be honest, he became a part of the show because of the way he looked; he fit really well with the family image. He’s one big tree of a man!
Martin is a stand-up guy; he’s always been a good employee. We were incredibly blessed to be invited to take part in the wedding festivities. As I stood before Martin and his beautiful bride, Brittany, I couldn’t help but think of the hours, days, and years that he has spent with our family. He has seen us grow and was a part of us long before we became a Dynasty.
I told him that he is forever family. Martin and Brittany were making vows to one another, but I vowed to be a part of their lives. As a family, we vowed to guide and teach the young couple; we will make sure that they understand the importance of the marriage vows. I wanted them to know that if they ever need guidance, we’re here for them. We’ve been down the road they are starting on, and we will be there as a GPS if they lose their way.
“We do marriage counseling,” said Mom. “We encourage; we love; we help. It’s a journey of love. When we built the business God’s way, we created the ability to care for people when they have nothing. Truly, little is much when God is in it. Our family is living proof that love, family, and God can get you through anything.”
Starting with fish and hushpuppies, our desire was to invest in people, to give as God has given to us, and to share our wealth with others, in feast or famine. By doing so, we impact eternity. A Christian business is not just measured by quarterly earnings, yearly goals, or shareholder dividends; true biblical success is found in the long-term ability to engage people on the eternal level.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58
By: Alan Robertson
Alan Robertson is the oldest son of Phil and Kay Robertson. He helped build the foundation of the family business, Duck Commander. Recently, Alan has returned to the family business after serving in full-time ministry for more than 25 years. Alan plays a vital role in the family’s commitment to spreading the gospel of Christ through their love of hunting and the great outdoors. Alan and his wife, Lisa, are parents of two grown daughters and proud grandparents to two granddaughters and a grandson on the way.