The Women of Duck Commander
By Kay, Korie, Missy, Jessica, and Lisa Robertson with Beth Clark
Here’s an excerpt from the new book, The Women of Duck Commander available wherever books are sold, including the Duck Commander website. Excerpt used by permission of Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
Chapter 13: I Found Out What It Means to Fight, by Miss Kay
My grandmother once told me, "You'll have to fight for your marriage." When she said those words, I did not understand them. I had no idea what she meant. I never really saw her fight for her marriage because she had a good relationship with my grandfather. I would not say they were lovey-dovey all the time, but they treated each other with respect and there was peace in their home.
In the early years of my marriage to Phil, I did everything I could think of to be a good wife and a good mother to Alan. I had all kinds of dreams about a happy marriage and a loving family, and I honestly believed if I worked hard enough, those dreams would come true. They didn't, no matter how hard I tried — at least not for a long, long time.
I was pregnant with Alan when Phil and I moved to Ruston, Louisiana, for him to attend college and play football at Louisiana Tech. Phil was really good! In fact, when he left the team a couple of years later, his replacement was a guy who was also really good, but not as good as Phil. That second-string quarterback was named Terry Bradshaw, and he went on to become a very famous football player.Bad Combinations
The football team and everything that went along with being a player did not provide a good environment for Phil. After spring training of his first year, he had to spend some time living in a dorm with his teammates — a bunch of single guys out from under their parents' watchful eyes for the first time. They enjoyed drinking and partying, and because Phil was the star quarterback, they always wanted him to join them. He was young, like the other guys on the football team, and some of them told him he was really missing something because he had never had his "wild time." I guess he believed them, because he got wild pretty fast and started drinking with his buddies. When that happened, I tried to be with him without getting involved in all the things he was doing. I went to some parties, but when the drinking started, all I could think about was my mother and what alcohol had done to her. Besides, I had enough sense to know that drinking and being pregnant did not go together. So Phil started sowing his wild oats, while I stayed sober and scared of what was happening to him.
During this time, Phil and I did not go to church. He didn't want to. He did not have his own faith at that point, and neither did I. Both of us grew up attending church, but once we were out on our own we were free to choose whether we would continue or not. Part of me wanted to go, but I believed Phil was the head of our household and I needed to do what he wanted, which was to stay home on Sunday mornings. Another part of me did not want to go because I was young and pregnant and unmarried, and I felt embarrassed. I kept thinking we would go to church later, in a year or two when we got married and things settled down. I had no idea how bad our lives would get before we finally did.
After Alan was born, I had my hands full. I was very young, and of course I had never had a baby before. I did not have much help or support, but I was determined to be a good mother and that took a lot of my time and energy. I could not stay out late at night partying with Phil and I certainly was not going to get drunk.
One night, I had a major reality check. Phil and I were at a party and had taken Alan. One of Phil's good friends from home was also in school at Tech. His wife was a good friend of mine and they lived close to us. We were all together at a party one weekend and my friend suggested I check on Alan. He was throwing up. I wrapped him in a blanket, found Phil, and said, "We have to go home. The baby's sick." Phil would not leave the party, so I took Alan home alone. There's no telling when Phil showed up. That night was the end of my party time. From then on, Phil partied and drank, but I did not go with him. I remember being so torn inside because I really wanted to be with Phil. At the same time, when I thought about those parties and everything that went on during them, all I could say to myself was, "I can't do this. I just can't do it." I didn't; I quit all of that, but Phil kept on.Things Will Get Better
I truly believed Phil would leave his wild ways behind once he finished college, got away from his football buddies, and started working. Even though he didn't make a priority of his studies and eventually left the football team so he could spend more time hunting and fishing, Phil graduated with both a bachelor's and a master's degree. He was well prepared to be a teacher and a coach. I was so excited about the next stage of our lives, convinced things would be better and that the happy home life I always dreamed of would finally come true.
Phil got a job soon after graduation. A man named Al Bolen recruited him as a teacher in Junction City, Arkansas. I was so happy when I realized the school was going to provide us with a little house and I could work as the school secretary. Finally, just as I had hoped, everything was shaping up just as I wanted it to. We even lived across the street from a sweet elderly couple, an old preacher and his wife, who was blind. They took an interest in Alan as soon as they met him. They loved him, and he loved them. They took him to church every Sunday, starting when he was five years old. The preacher and Alan really had an amazing relationship, and I was so thankful for that.
After Jase was born, the preacher and his wife took him to church, too, and sometimes I went with them. Phil still was not interested in church at that point, except when his parents, Granny and Pa, came to visit. When his parents were with us, we all went to church, but Phil was miserable. Phil has never been a person to pretend. Everything is black or white, good or bad, with him. If he likes something, he lets it be known. If he doesn't like something, he does not keep it to himself. He did not like church, and everyone knew it.
Maybe one reason he did not like church was that he had not left behind his drinking and partying when we moved from Ruston. Al Bolen turned out to be a big fisherman and duck hunter, just like Phil, but he also had a drinking problem, which was the last thing Phil needed to be around. Instead of finally being able to live my dream in Arkansas, I was right back in the same old nightmare.Moving On
By the time Willie was born, people in the community were aware of Phil's behavior. He did not drink every day; he could go days or even weeks without taking a sip. He was a party guy. When he got around other people and started drinking, he did not stop until he was good and drunk. In a small town, word travels fast when people do things like that, especially when those people are schoolteachers. The school administration and students' parents finally began to lose their patience with Phil, and he knew he would soon be fired. He decided to get another job and move our family out of town before that happened. With my Pollyanna attitude and my firm belief that everything would get better if I could just be the perfect wife and mother, I hoped a new start would be exactly what we needed. It wasn't.
Phil's personal situation, our marriage, and our family life got worse. Phil decided to leave teaching and coaching, and, as he put it, "make some money." Without even mentioning to me what he wanted to do, he leased a bar in a rural area of Arkansas! We lived in a trailer next door to it. All I could think was, Seriously? You are going to run a bar in the middle of nowhere? What am I supposed to do, take my kids to a bar every night? I knew I would have to help Phil in this new business, but I did not know anything about running a bar. I didn't even drink!
By this time, I had thought a lot about our marriage and family. It was not turning out the way I dreamed it would, not even close. I was disappointed, of course, but more than that, I was at a total loss about what to do. I knew that if I talked to my sister, she would tell me to leave Phil. One of Phil's brothers had already said I needed to leave. But I couldn't get my grandmother's advice out of my head: "You're going to have to fight for your marriage." I was finding out what those words meant, and the fight was a whole lot worse than I ever thought it could be.
Although some people thought I had a good reason to leave Phil when we got ready to move out of town so he could run the bar, I decided to go with him. I knew he could end up in big, big trouble — and I thought I could protect him. If not, at least I could keep an eye on him and at least our three little boys would have both parents in the home with them.
Once Phil started operating the bar, I went to work as a barmaid. It was the only way I knew to keep up with what he was doing. The local people who visited the bar knew immediately that I did not belong there. They kept telling me I needed to be in church, not waiting tables in a bar. I got the feeling they would have fought to the death for me. They thought I was a "nice lady"; they really respected me and refused to let anybody say anything bad about me. They did not understand why I worked in the bar when it seemed so out of character for me, but they also did not understand it was about much more than serving drinks for tips every night: I was fighting with all my might to save my marriage.
During this time, I found an elderly lady who babysat the boys while Phil and I worked, so thankfully they were not exposed to many of the things I saw and experienced. So many unsafe things happened, and I spent a lot of time frightened and anxious about what we should do. There were times when Phil started drinking and simply disappeared for a few days, leaving me alone with three boys and a run-down bar. When that happened, an elderly man who lived in the area ran the bar, while I kept serving drinks and wondering when Phil would come home.Our Darkest Days
Phil became cold and harsh during those days. He was mean and threatening to me, and I was terrified of what would happen to my boys and me. Even though I had not been in church because I was so embarrassed about everything that was happening and about Phil's behavior, I did make sure the boys got there every Sunday and I never forgot my Christian upbringing. One day, I began to pray with all my heart, "God, just get us out of here."
Somehow, we made it through the first year of Phil's lease on the bar, even though it was a terrible time. Three or four months later, the landlords showed up one day and cussed out Phil, saying they did not like the way he was running the place and were raising his rent. They were rough people, and I think what they really didn't like was that Phil had turned the place into a profitable business and was making good money off it.
Those people were not smart. They had no idea that trying to push Phil Robertson around and cuss him out would lead to disaster. He got so angry with them that he beat them up — both of them. By the time I got to the bar to try to figure out what was happening, all I saw were people being loaded into an ambulance.
During all the confusion, Phil did the only thing he knew to do: run away. He told me quickly that he was leaving and he would be gone for a while, just before he slipped out a back door. I knew he would be in trouble with the law and the only way to avoid that would be for him to hide out. He told me to handle the situation the best I could and then leave. I faced five police cars that night and enough questions to make my head spin. They wanted Phil, and I could honestly tell them I had no idea where they might find him.
So there I was: no source of income, husband on the run, three little boys, in the middle of Arkansas. Phil had made a huge mess of our lives and had left me to clean it up. I felt completely helpless and hopeless.
When the couple who owned the bar got out of the hospital, they put up a barricade around my trailer. The boys and I were trapped! I couldn't move the trailer and I couldn't leave. One day they said they wanted to meet with me, and I had no choice but to talk to them. They offered to drop the charges against Phil if I would pay them a certain amount of money. It was extortion, but I paid them because it was the only way I knew to clear Phil's name and get the boys and myself away from them. I gave them almost all the money we had except a little bit that was in a lockbox, and they gave me the trailer. I also had some things stored in another building on their property — some keepsakes and things that held special memories for me — and a washer and dryer. They would not let me get near any of those things, so I had to leave them all behind.From Bad to Worse
I hired a moving company to move the trailer from Arkansas to Bayou D'Arbonne Lake, near Farmerville, Louisiana. I had told Phil in a phone call where he could find us, and he soon came out of the swamp and joined us. He was so relieved when I told him he would not be arrested over the incident with the bar owners. While he was on the run, he had found a job in an offshore oil field, but we still needed money, so I went to work at a local chicken place and made just enough to pay our electric bill.
Phil was drinking worse than ever by that time, and I began to get seriously depressed. Not only were my hopes and dreams shattered, I couldn't even figure out how to make anything in our lives work. Everything was falling apart.
I soon got a new job as an insurance clerk in Monroe, Louisiana, a little less than thirty miles from our new home on the lake. The company that hired me was Howard Brothers Discount Stores, the family business of my daughter-in-law Korie, though she was only a few years old at the time and I had no idea who she was. It's a good thing I had a decent job, because not long after I got it, Phil was hurt offshore and had to stay home. I was afraid to leave the boys with him, not knowing what he might do if he drank too much, so I put them in day care.
As the situation continued, I grew more and more depressed. I worked with two Christian men at Howard Brothers, and every day, one of them would give me a Bible verse, just to try to encourage me. Those verses gave me the strength I needed to get through this terrible time in my life.
One rainy night, I had car trouble and was late picking up the boys from day care. When we finally got home, Phil accused me of having an affair! It was ridiculous. When was I going to find time to have an affair — between working full-time and changing diapers? I had always told him I would never cheat, and I would not have. I never believed in being unfaithful; it's just not in my character.
That cheating accusation was the last straw for me. I hit rock bottom. I have never felt as totally hopeless as I did that night. I simply could not see any way out of a terrible situation for the boys and me. I finally accepted the fact that I could not fix our lives and had no one to help. So I did what a lot of women do when they need to be alone: I went into the bathroom and locked the door. I cried and cried, and finally realized I just wanted to go to sleep for a long time. I did not consciously want to kill myself; I just wanted to take enough Tylenol (because that's all we had) to have a nice, long rest. And I wanted to scare the daylights out of Phil. I wanted to punish him for everything he had put me through. I told myself I didn't care if I slept forever, but deep down I don't think I really wanted to die.
In the midst of that low place, the darkest place I have ever been emotionally, with thoughts of sleep and rest filling my mind, through my sobs I heard the scurry of little feet headed toward the bathroom door. I could tell all three boys, in their house shoes, were coming to talk to me. Alan spoke first: "Mom, don't cry. Don't cry anymore. God will take care of us." I was silent for a moment. Then I heard Jase ask, "Did she quit crying?" And I could hear Willie doing something he did often, making smacking noises while sucking on two of his fingers.
In an instant, it was like a lightbulb came on for me. "What am I doing?" I asked myself. "I have three little boys. I can't leave them with a drunk."
I spoke to my sons through the door: "I'm okay. I love y'all. I'll be out in a minute."
I then got on my knees and prayed. "God, help me. Just help me. I don't want to leave these kids. I don't know what to do or where to find You. Just lead me to somebody who can help me."Peace, Hope, and Love
The next day, I saw a television commercial for some kind of religious TV show. The ad said something like, "Do you want peace, hope, and a reason for living? Do you want someone to love you and never let you go?" I turned up the volume just as the announcer said, "Then call this number." So I called that number and told the woman who answered, "I want to speak with that man who is on TV talking about peace, hope, and love. It's an emergency. I need to talk to him right away."
The man's name was Bill Smith. When I saw him, I knew exactly who he was. Phil's sister was a member of his church, and months earlier she had brought him to the bar hoping he could talk some sense into Phil, but Phil would not listen to him. I didn't care whether Phil wanted to hear what Bill Smith had to say or not. I did.
When I got to his church, White's Ferry Road Church, and met with him, the first question he asked me was if I thought I would go to heaven when I died.
"Of course I'd go to heaven. You have no idea what I have been through and what I have put up with from my husband." Then I told him how hard I had fought for my marriage and how faithful I had been, even though Phil had done terrible things.
The preacher asked me if I thought I had earned my way to heaven. I certainly did!
He then asked me if I had any peace or hope in my life. That was my problem. My peace and hope had run out years earlier. I now see what a disconnect was going on in my mind. I thought I had earned my way to God, but I wasn't at peace and I had lost all hope.
He then shared the gospel with me, and I realized two things. First, I realized I never really had my own faith. For many years, I'd lived off my grandmother's faith, but faith was not deeply personal for me. Second, I saw that I really was a good person, but I was a good person without Jesus Christ, and I desperately needed Him. That very day, before I left the church, I confessed to Jesus, made Him Lord of my life, and was baptized. Needless to say, I felt so much better! I had peace in my heart, and best of all, I had hope again.
Everyone in the church that day was so happy for me. The janitor, the housekeeper, and the church secretary all gave me big hugs. "You're part of our family now! We'll be there for you, and you can be there for us," they said.
That's nice, I thought, but my husband is a drunk.At Least One of Us Changed
Preacher Smith was a very wise man. He knew that no matter what had happened for me that day, nothing at all had happened for Phil. He gave me a clear warning before I went home, telling me that even though I had become a Christian and I would never be alone and God would never leave me, that didn't mean Phil would act any better. He would still be the same person I had struggled with for years. He would still get drunk, be mean, and do the same things he had always done.
I continued to stay with Phil because I knew God would help me. I prayed and prayed for him; the boys did too. I would invite the preacher over to talk to Phil and Phil would slip out the back door as the preacher came in the front, and he sometimes stayed gone for days. But I was still determined to fight for my marriage. Then one night I was late coming home from work and Phil again accused me of running around on him. He yelled at me, saying he was sick of me. He said I was bad to live with before, but now I was a holy roller and a goody-two-shoes. According to Phil at the time, I thought I was "the judge of the world." I did not think that at all. I was just trying to stay sane and keep my boys safe.
At that point, Phil said angrily, "You are messing up my life. I can't live with you. I want you and your kids to get out." "I have fought for this marriage," I replied, "and you are kicking me out?"
Yes he was. He wanted me gone from his life. When I tell this story, I make a point to emphasize the fact that I did not leave. I got thrown out, and I was heartbroken.
The boys and I went to a relative's house, and I was hoping we could stay there for a while. But even though this man was a close relative on Phil's side of the family, he would only allow us in his home for one night. He was just as afraid of Phil as I was, maybe more so. He was terrified of what Phil might do to him and his family if Phil knew we were staying with them.My Church Becomes My Family
The only people I knew to turn to was my church family. I knew the people at White's Ferry Road would help me. Someone there helped me arrange an income-based apartment. When I took a relative to the place I had been living with Phil so we could get the things the boys and I needed, she saw how hurt I was, and she was angry with Phil for the way he had treated the boys and me. She suggested we destroy everything that belonged to him. I had one answer for that: "I don't retaliate." As much as Phil had hurt me, hurting him in return went against my nature and, by then, against my Christian beliefs.
In our little apartment, the boys and I had a very small television. We'd had a larger one when we lived with Phil, but he'd kept it and the boys really missed it. I told them I didn't care what kind of TV we had; we needed to be focused on studying the Bible. So that's what we did; we studied the Bible and we all got on our knees and prayed for Phil, every day.
Even though Phil had treated me badly, there was a hole in my heart after he kicked out the boys and me. I so desperately wanted God to change him. I prayed, the boys prayed, and I got everybody I knew to pray with us. My friends at work prayed for our family; I took Bible classes at church and asked everyone in every class to pray for my husband. I even remember standing in line at Walmart one day and asking the woman behind me, "Do you pray?" When she said yes, I told her about Phil. I knew only God could change things for us and that the way to get to Him was through prayer.
About three months later, I went to lunch one day with a friend from work. When we returned to the Howard Brothers offices, I saw Phil's old truck in the parking lot. My friend asked me if I wanted her to call the police, and I said, "No, I'll go talk to him. Just watch me through the window. If anything happens, then call them." As I walked toward the truck and saw Phil bent over the steering wheel, I assumed he was drunk. He was not; he was crying. I opened the door of the truck and for the first time in my life saw huge tears flowing down his face. I'll never forget what he said: "I can't sleep.I can't eat. I want my family back, and I am never going to drink again."
My first thought was, This is the man I want. This one, right here. But I had enough sense not to say that right away.
"Phil, you can't do it by yourself," I told him. "You need help. You really need help."
"Are you talking about God?" he asked.
"Yep, that's it," I answered.
"I don't know how to find Him," said Phil.
"Well, I do," I responded. "You be back in this parking lot at five o'clock and follow me home. I'll have someone there to talk to you."
Phil agreed. Back in my office, I called Bill Smith, told him what happened, and asked him to come to my apartment at five fifteen that evening to talk to Phil. He said he would have to check his calendar.
"Check your calendar?" I said, almost in disbelief. "What on earth could be more important than this lost soul?"
He must have realized I was right, because he immediately said, "I'll be there."The Turnaround Begins
When Phil walked into our apartment that night, the boys were so happy. The first thing they wanted to know was whether he'd brought back the big TV. All Phil could say was, "I didn't know I was supposed to do that." He looked around the sparse room where we had been living and said, "You should have gotten more stuff." It never was about stuff to me. The last thing we needed during that time was more stuff.
Bill Smith and his wife, Margaret, arrived right at five fifteen. Phil looked at him and immediately said, "I don't trust people."
Smith held up his copy of the Bible and asked, "Do you trust this?"
"Yes," said Phil. "And I am going to check out everything you say."
The preacher said to me, "Get a pencil so Phil can write everything down."
Margaret and I took the boys into a little back room and we prayed and prayed while Phil talked with the preacher.
When their visit was over, Phil said, "I'm not going to do any of this until I check it out."
Bill Smith came back and helped Phil study the Bible the next night and the night after that. I let Phil stay in the apartment with us, and he was so humble. He loved the boys — and that made all of us happy. The change in him was like night and day. The fourth night, I believe, I got home from work one evening, expecting to find Bill Smith and Phil studying the Bible, but I didn't see them anywhere. Our apartment was so small I didn't have to look very far. I can't remember now whether they did not leave a note or whether I just didn't see it, but I had no idea where they were, so I went to the church to look for them. When I got there, Phil was getting baptized!
That was just like Phil — to make up his mind to do something and then not even tell me or wait for me to get there after I had prayed so long and hard for that moment. It was okay, though. As long as he made Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior, I was happy.
Things did not change for us overnight, but they did change over time. Phil stopped drinking very quickly, and once he started studying the Bible, he never stopped. At times, as God was changing him, he had to suffer the consequences of some of the things he had done, but he has thoroughly and completely changed from the man he used to be. After a lot of hurt and disappointment, and a lot of prayer, God really did change him. He is now the kindest, most loving man I have ever known, and he is fearless about sharing his faith because he knows how much God changed his life. I can honestly say, after those terrible times in our early years, Phil truly became the man of my dreams.