On Duck Dynasty and Building a Stronger Family: Willie and Korie Robertson
"Duck Dynasty" stars Willie and Korie Robertson laugh at duck call tales, dive into their movie "The Blind," and explore faith, forgiveness, and family. Don't miss their ideas on actively building a culture-changing family legacy.
I think a lot of times you look at the story, and you focus on Phil's repentance because Phil's change was significant. But also, Kay's forgiveness was so significant; and both of those things had to happen for this family to stick together. If Phil had not repented, it's done. If Phil had not changed his life, the family [would be] over. If Kay had not chosen forgiveness and taken Phil back—it changed everything. -- Korie Robertson
About the Guest
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“Duck Dynasty” stars Willie and Korie Robertson laugh at duck call tales, dive into their movie “The Blind,” and explore faith, forgiveness, and family.
Korie: I think a lot of times you look at the story, and you focus on Phil’s repentance because Phil’s change was significant. But also, Kay’s forgiveness was so significant; and both of those things had to happen for this family to stick together. If Phil had not repented, it’s done. If Phil had not changed his life, the family [would be] over. If Kay had not chosen forgiveness and taken Phil back—it changed everything.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts areDave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: My question for you is, “Do you know what a duck call is?”
Dave: Come on.
Dave: You do.
Ann: Well, I mean doesn’t everybody know what a duck call is?
Dave: No, I did not know what a duck call was.
Ann: Did you ever hunt, ever?
Dave: You know that. My wife knows more about hunting than I do, because she grew up with brothers and a dad. I never had a dad, so I figured you knew what a duck call is.
Ann: I do.
Dave: We’re sort of going talk about duck calls today, but not really. [Laughter] We’ve got Duck Dynasty stars Will and Korie Robertson with us. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Korie: Thanks. Thanks for having us.
Willie: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Dave: Tell us a little bit. I mean our listeners probably know a little bit about you guys, but give us a little bit of your background.
Willie: Well, I do know what a duck call is. [Laughter] You can say that.
Dave: I learned what a duck call was by watching your show. I mean, I had heard about what they were, but I didn’t really understand them.
Korie: I think a lot of people learned about duck calls by watching our show.
Willie: I believe that’s true. Yes, my father came up with Duck Commander as the company. He had one little invention where he double-reeded the calls on the hen call. At the time there weren’t two together. That was his invention; he patented it. I grew up in that business. Korie and I grew up in the same town. They were in business, as well. Technically, you guys sold our duck calls in your retail stores.
We also went to the same church, so that’s how we met. When we talk about the movie, her story, and her family, was a very important role in our story as well. Whenever Mom and Dad came to their faith. Small world, small town, for sure.
Ann: You mentioned “movie.” Let’s talk about that. This is pretty exciting.
Korie: It is exciting. We actually started a production company called Tread Lightly about two years ago and decided the first one out of the gate would be our family’s story, which is a little intimidating and scary to tell your story first. But it is Phil and Kay’s story, Willie’s parents. It’s just an incredible story of love and redemption and God’s grace and goodness. We were able to tell it in a really powerful way through a film. It’s been a journey.
Dave: Yes, we got an advance copy. We got to watch it last night, so we’ve seen what everybody’s going to see this weekend as it comes out. Talk a little bit about growing up in that family. Willie, you were how old when your dad started the company—you were just a little boy?
Ann: Or even—do you remember when your dad came to faith?
Willie: Not really, no. Pretty much all my memories of mom and dad were post- that (all the drama and heartache and stuff).
In the movie, toward the end when he actually comes to faith, I’m about two, which is played by my grandson, John Shepherd. Our son, John Luke’s son, played me. It was wild to see that play out. I don’t have, really, any memories of any of the bad or whatever. I could sense it and eel it, and I obviously heard about it a lot as I grew up, but I was fortunate to see the good side of their marriage really my whole life.
Dave: I knew your dad’s story, but it was gripping. You guys don’t hide anything in this movie, which was awesome because you see from darkness to light. Talk about, as you guys were thinking about this movie, why he decided to go so honest with his life story, which I think is great?
Korie: Well, Phil has told his story a lot. He and Kay have always been very honest about their story. It’s really impacted people, because a lot of people go through that dark time. They have really been honest with it, but I think it’s one thing to tell it and another thing to see it on a screen.
That has been harder, I think, than expected. It’s been difficult for Phil to watch, honestly, because he has told it so much, we didn’t realize how hard it would be to relive that. But he’s mentioned several times that he’s embarrassed by that time of his life. I think just, you know, when you have to go back and relive it, it’s hard. But he’s been 100 percent willing to do it because he feels like, “If it can help somebody then, alright, use my story.”
Ann: I think we’re living in dark times. I feel like it’s so relatable to what people are facing and experiencing, not only with their own lives, but their kids’ lives. I really appreciate it being so real and honest. That’s what draws us in, especially when we see what Jesus can do as a result.
Dave: As you were thinking about producing this movie, what was your hope?
Willie: Well, our hope was that people can find themselves in that story, and if you find yourself in that story, perhaps you can help. Phil was willing to obviously lay all that out about his own life because he was passionate about people coming to the Lord just like he did.
If you’re in the spot where Phil [was], which is—that’s a tough spot to be in—where you’re that far away from the Lord, your marriage is pretty much eroded and gone, you’re going to lose your children, and I know there’s a lot of people that are going to find themselves in that spot. If you’re in that spot, there is hope; there is redemption.
But I think a lot of people find themselves in, perhaps, Mom’s spot, where you’re in a challenging marriage. “Should you stay with it?” Probably most people would say, “Go! Leave, and get away from that.” But she stayed in there, fought for the marriage, and obviously, we’re thankful that that happened. Had that not happened, our whole—my whole—life would be completely different.
You may find yourself in that spot. I think you’ll be encouraged if you find yourself in my dad’s sister’s spot. She was really the one, at the time, who really never gave up on Phil. Even when Mom and everybody else were saying, “This guy’s gone,” she was still going up there and ultimately sending a pastor up to that bar to speak to Phil. So, her courage—I think some of us can be encouraged by that, realizing there’s people that we need to go see, and we need to not give up on. Even the pastor, who gets in a car and drives to a bar out of state, walks into this environment. It still amazes me that he did that.
Willie: For that guy to actually take a whole day of his life and go up there and put that into Phil was just amazing and incredible. Even though Phil didn’t respond at the time and actually kind of rejected that, he planted that seed that came back later. Phil, then, when he really was at the end of his rope and then—what was it?—he got past himself; the line in the movie. Then that’s when he comes back to find out more about what that guy was saying, and then God does what He does then: restores and heals us all.
It's just incredible, that journey. None of this would have happened; I mean, there would have been no business, there would have been no Duck Commander, there would have been no Duck Dynasty, I probably wouldn’t have been in this town, and I wouldn’t have met Korie.
We met at a church camp that was new for us. Now we’re going to a church, and we’re going to a church camp, which is where I met Korie. We ended up in the same church together. Children, grandchildren, and all of this, you know? I can trace all of that back to a small couple in rural Arkansas [whose] marriage stuck together. They found their faith, and God gets all the glory for all of it.
Ann: It’s legacy, and not only is it a legacy that has been changed and redeemed by Jesus, but now as a result of what you are doing, you guys have impacted so many—thousands and thousands of people through your story, through your lives, and through your family, which gives people hope.
Now a movie! Think about that. Jesus would have found Phil, but I love the obedience of the pastor, just doing what he was supposed to.
Ann: That’s pretty cool.
Dave: Now, is this a story that was talked about in your home as you were growing up? I remember when our youngest was left [at home] and our other two were off to college—we had three sons, and our youngest; we were sitting at the dinner table one night, and he turned to Ann and me, and he said, “Hey, did you guys drink in college? Did you guys party?”
His dad now is a pastor. “Did you guys have sex? Can we—tell me your story.” We looked at each other like, “Okay, how honest are we going to be?” Was this something that was pretty honest in your home?
Willie: Yes, the way Phil would talk about it was more like he would say, “I was a heathen. I was immoral.” Yes, he would definitely lay that out. Especially, he would correlate it with the Scriptures, or read the Scriptures, and say: “This was me. This was my life.”
Willie: Yes, he was very blunt about where he was and who he was and what he did.
Ann: Korie, tell us what was your story of coming to Jesus? Did you grow up in a Christian home, too, Korie?
Korie: I did. I did grow up in a Christian home. The church that took a single mom with three little boys in was the church that I grew up in. Whenever Willie and his family—whenever Kay—got kicked out of the house and left, she came to West Monroe, Louisiana. The church gave her an apartment. Actually, it was my granddad’s business that gave her a job. My granddad and my dad had a chain of discount stores and Kay came to work for my family.
Willie: Her granddad was one of the originators of the church, so they started the church and built the building—
Willie: —and actually hired the pastor. [The pastor] that ended up coming up there was hired by her grandfather and some other leaders.
Korie: How God wove our story together was pretty incredible, before we were even born or even knew anything. So, I did grow up in the church and was really grateful for that. I went to a Christian school, and [I] had parents and grandparents on both sides that had a really strong legacy of faith. [I was] really blessed by that.
Willie’s story—we always talked about how we could not have been more different in the way we grew up. I lived in a neighborhood. It was a whole different story. His family was on the river. They were commercial fisherman. We had a very different environment in that regard, but the legacy of faith that we both had because his memories are his family when they had already made the change to Jesus Christ. So, our families had that in common. We both had families that were very hospitable; real open homes, and we had church services and youth groups in both of our homes. We’re grateful for that.
Dave: As you brought those two different backgrounds together in your marriage, was your marriage easy? Was it a struggle? Were there trials?
Korie: Our first year, we were 18 and 19 when we got married.
Korie: In our first year of marriage, we fought like cats and dogs. There was a moment—it’s been probably ten years ago, but he still reminds me of it—that I said something to somebody about how that first year of marriage, I was thinking, “What was I thinking?” He said, “What? You were thinking, ‘What were you thinking?’”
Willie: I didn’t know we were thinking, “What were we thinking? Why did we get married?” I didn’t realize we ever got to that point. [Laughter]
Korie: Do you remember how much we fought? Do you remember how much I cried?
But it wasn’t just that first year. We definitely have had, in 31 years, we’ve had an amazing life together. But 31 years! It’s tough to stay married. We did. We came up with very different backgrounds. I was one of three. I had a brother and a sister. Our family did not fight. Willie grew up with four brothers. [Laughter] And they fought! So, the first year of our life together—our first Christmas—Willie punched my brother. [Laughter]
Korie: Yes, at Christmas, at a basketball game; on the basketball court.
Ann: And it wasn’t a joke?
Willie: No. He needed a big brother he never had, so that was me. [Laughter]
Korie: It was a different environment. There was a lot more violence in their home than—
Willie: I think when you watch the movie, when you see Phil and Kay, and especially Phil, and then just imagine, a few months later, he’s a Christian; but still, he’s rough. That’s our dad. So, you know, empathy and kindness—that journey took a while, especially to come through in the family.
Korie: Things like saying you are sorry.
Korie: That didn’t really happen.
Willie: It was tough. It was a tough environment.
Dave: As you think legacy of what Phil—[how] his life transformation has changed your future and now your kids, his grandkids—talk about that a little bit; the legacy that not only your dad started but now you are continuing. Is that something that brings you emotion?
Willie: Yes, I think that would be, probably, a daily motivator; one, of appreciation for that happening. Again, I think even this movie is our way of honoring how that happened. Obviously, God—the Lord—honoring that. But also, then sharing that with others and not giving up on other people. You never know who that person is and how that’s going to change their lives.
So, I think the biggest honor, and probably the biggest way to emulate the Scriptures is you keep that going. You go take that! It’s not just for you. It’s great for us, but now, who are we going to talk to? Who is that next person? To think that Duck Dynasty was watched by hundreds of millions of people—
Willie: n—not just in America, but all over the world!
Willie: Oh, yes. Then, at the end of every show, there’s a prayer that’s actually invited into your living room. Just that! That influence there, where that was in people’s homes—most television programming does not end with a prayer. [Laughter]
Especially one that popular. So, yes, just think about how the gospel has touched all that, and now, through our books, through our production company—and I say “ours,” because it’s a big family.
Willie: Podcasts and other TV shows, movies; all of this, again, you can [take] it all and trace it back to this thing starting and then letting God work its way there. So, yes, that’s something I think about constantly. And also, I was thinking, this could have gone either way. [Laughter]
Willie: Why did mom stay with this guy?
Willie: I don’t know that I could have or would have. I probably should have, maybe, but that’s tough.
Dave: Korrie, what would you say to a wife who is, maybe, experiencing what Kay did with her husband? Either one of you women; what would you say to a wife who asks, “Should I stay? Should I leave? What should I do?”
Korie: I think that is one thing I always think about with this story: how powerful Kay’s forgiveness was.
Korie: I think a lot of times you look at the story, and you focus on Phil’s repentance because Phil’s change was significant. But also, Kay’s forgiveness was so significant; and both of those things had to happen for this family to stick together. Had Phil not repented, it’s done. Had Phil not changed his life, the family [would be] over. Had Kay not chosen forgiveness—and you can forgive and not stick in a marriage; that happens a lot as well. For her to forgive and take Phil back is what changed everything for their life.
There’s an episode in Duck Dynasty where Phil and Kay renew their vows. That, actually, was the most watched episode of Duck Dynasty, and also the most-watched unscripted show of all time.
Korie: I think it still holds that record.
Korie: Yes, and it was so powerful for our family to see them get to renew their vows, because they never really had a wedding. She got pregnant in high school, and you see that in the film as well. They never had a wedding, so we had a little wedding ceremony for them. For kids and grandkids to sit there and watch them get to do that, I think, was such a powerful, powerful thing, because so many families don’t stick together. They don’t make it; they don’t.
There have been times when we’ve gone through difficult times, and that example of saying, “No! Stick it out. Stick together. Make it through it. Fight through it. Forgive. Offer grace when it’s needed and necessary.” Then you can see this legacy that is passed down, and now we have grandkids who all live close to us and are part of it. You know, had we given up whenever the time got tough for us; had we not turned back toward one another—and it’s because of God’s grace that allowed us to do that, because we’ve experienced forgiveness ourselves, so we can offer that forgiveness.
Kay knew that, and she did it. She lived it out, and we’re able to benefit from that.
Dave: I think we underestimate, as a single person, as a married person, or as a parent, that every decision we make, especially in private, is legacy changing. If I’m struggling with drinking a beer alone or looking at porn—and on the flipside, when I’m choosing to dig into the Word, choosing to repent, these private little decisions; I don’t think we realize the stakes are so high. This is not just going to impact me. That’s how a legacy is built, right?
Korie: Absolutely! Absolutely. I noticed this early on, even when we started dating how each of the brothers, all of Phil and Kay’s sons, were so connected to God in their faith, because they saw it so evidently in their dad’s life. They saw the change so powerfully. Jace, who remembers more—Jace and Al were the oldest, so they remember more about Phil’s years when he wasn’t a Christian, and Jace tells a story about remembering whenever he was in a boat with Phil. They were going out, and there were some guys who had been stealing their fish.
Before that, Phil had his gun, and Jace would be scared that something bad would happen, because Phil was not a nice person. If someone was stealing his fish, that could have ended really badly. It was after he became a Christian and, instead of being angry with the guys, he said, “Hey, what’s going on?” He had a conversation with them; he invited them back to his house. He said, “I’ll cook those fish for you, and let’s have a Bible study.” [Laughter]
So, it was a huge transformation from one of like, “Oh, no! My dad’s going to beat these guys up!” to “Oh, my dad’s inviting them into our home and offering them grace and saying he’ll cook for them.”
Ann: Hey, you guys, let me ask you this, too. I’m thinking about the fame that you guys entered into, especially when Duck Dynasty started to spread and grow. It would be easy to be pulled away and distracted by all the fame. How have you guys, practically, stayed true to Jesus and stayed the course?
Willie: It hasn’t been easy always, especially when it was—when the show was out.
Willie: There was really popularity, so there was always stuff; but I think that was our foundation that was laid in for decades before. Yes, just trying to remember what that is, and continue to grow in our faith, and continue to be connected with Kingdom-minded people in how to impact the culture.
It got a little bigger because we realized we were part of culture; part of impacting it for the good. You know, “We have a show that’s doing that.”
Willie: So, to us, that’s exciting! It’s why we made the movie: to continue to try to impact culture. It’s not just on the local level, which is very important, and it’s where most people live; but also thinking about the bigger play here, of what God can do in the culture, in entertainment. What goes into our eyes and ears, but also our children’s. How does that affect people?
Dave: What’s your dream with the production company? Are there other movies to come?
Korie: Yes! We’re in pre-production on our next film, so we’re excited about that. We’re planning on doing more film, television (unscripted, of course, because that’s where we came from—unscripted television shows), and podcasting: Sadie’s podcast, and Phil has a podcast. We have a podcast called Duck Call Room, and we’re expanding that podcast network as well, because we believe in the power of the word; we believe in the power of entertainment.
You know, entertainment is really shaping us, and now, I think, it’s even more evident, because there are agendas in entertainment and in what you want to see and what you put out there. We just think it’s really important that we have people of faith in every aspect of life, including entertainment, and that we’re lights in the world wherever we are. God has called us into this space, so we’re going to keep trying to shine in this space.
Ann: That’s really so good.
Dave: Yes, I think it’s great. As I watched the movie last night that our listeners are going to watch this weekend, I envisioned people coming to Christ. I mean, it’s done so well. The gospel is so clear. Life change and legacy—I mean, there’s all that going on. Obviously, you produced it; you know. I was sitting there thinking, “People are going to come to Christ in movie theaters! Outside movie theaters, in family rooms as they get home afterwards and talk about the movie. I really saw that! It’s like this movie is going to change men and women and legacies. I’m guessing that’s your hope as well, right?
Korie: That’s amazing; yes. That’s exactly what we’re hoping for, and it is so important to support films like this.
Korie: That’s one thing people don’t realize. The more—you are voting by going to see these movies. That’s saying, “This is more of the kind of thing that we want to see; content that is hopeful and that points people to Jesus. As we go see this type of show, it actually makes an impact on more of this being able to be made.” That’s the biggest hope, and that’s what Phil said from the beginning: “If one person comes to Christ because of me telling my story, it’s worth it.”
And everything—every decision that was made in an edit or whatever—was for that goal: that someone would see it and would say, “I want to know more about Jesus,” and would turn their life to Him because of it.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Willie and Korie Robertson on FamilyLife Today. You know, long before Phil Robertson was a reality TV star with Duck Dynasty, he fell in love, started a family, and began to spiral out of control. That’s all featured in the movie, The Blind. It’s coming out September 28th, and tickets are on sale now. You can find a link in the show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com to find specific times where you can catch this movie in theaters in your area.
You know, pursuing purity in dating and engagement is one of those things that people talk about a lot, but do we do it for the right reasons? Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon to talk about just that: pursuing purity, not for the sake of marital reward, but to honor Christ and glorify God. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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