FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Reaping the Family Blessing

with RV Brown | June 1, 2009
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What do you remember about your childhood? Evangelist RV Brown, author of the book Step Up to the Plate, Dad!, reminisces about growing up in a family of 17 children and fondly recalls the integrity and fortitude of his father, Willie "Fish" Brown.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What do you remember about your childhood? Evangelist RV Brown, author of the book Step Up to the Plate, Dad!, reminisces about growing up in a family of 17 children and fondly recalls the integrity and fortitude of his father, Willie "Fish" Brown.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What do you remember about your childhood?

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Reaping the Family Blessing

With RV Brown
June 01, 2009
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Bo:I know you pray for your children, right?  But here's the question – do you pray for your children the way RV Brown's parents prayed for him?

RV:My mama and daddy prayed together every night.  I would hear my mama and daddy call all kids' names, all 17 kids' names in order. When she'd get to my name, I'd clog up my ears, because I don't want to be bad like those kids, and

she said, "Lord, you chastise RV.  Have RV do what you want him to do," and most of you know what that word "chastise" means you got a whuppin' – that means God's going to do something to you. So my mama said, "Lord, you chastise RV, have RV" – because I must have been a rascal, and she said, "Chastise him," so I said, [unintelligible], they always say the same thing – they prayed for us.

Bo:This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  RV Brown learned a lot about being a dad from his dad.  Let's see if we can pick up some tips today as well.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.

Denni: Bob, I have to ask you a question. Do you know who Jim Brown played football for – the NFL great?

Bo:Yeah, it was Cleveland, wasn't it?

Denni:Was it the Cleveland Browns?

Bo:I think so, yeah.

Denni:Do you remember what he looked like?

Bo:Oh, yeah, yeah, he looked like you didn't want to get in his way, is what he looked like.

Denni:You know, when I received the book for our guest on today's program, I

honestly thought that they maybe took a picture of Jim Brown, the great running back for the Cleveland Browns and put it on the front.


Denni: Because, I mean, strong – I mean – well, first of all, RV Brown joins us on FamilyLife Today.  RV welcome to the broadcast.

RV:It's good to be here.

Denni:How far around are your arms?

RV:Between 22 and 23 inches.

Bo:About the same as my thigh, I believe, is where his arms are, you know? Denni:He fills out his shirt quite well, and I don't think there's a lot of body fat. Bo:No.

Denni:Not a lot of body fat.  He's six-one-and-a-half, weighs 295.

Bo:Bench presses …




Denni:Four-oh-five – I think Jim Brown would be dwarfed.

Bo:I think he'd get out of the way if he saw RV coming.

RV:I visit Jim Brown. I've been to visit his home. Yeah, he's working with the gangs, and I went and spent three days at his home.

Denni:You do remind me a little bit of him, but you didn't play pro football, but you are an evangelist and the president of Outreach to America's Youth.

RV:Yes, I am.

Denni: Speaks to young people all over the country in assemblies and junior highs, high schools; has been a coach, a teacher and ministers all over the country in various settings and has written a book called StepUptoThePlate,Dad!with an exclamation point.

Now, your dad had a great impact in your family, so when you write this book about stepping up to the plate, Dad, you had a great dad, didn't you?

RV:Yes, I had an awesome dad.

Denni:Your dad's name was Fish.  How'd he get the nickname?

RV:Because when he was a little boy, he loved to fish and, you know, back then that's probably about all they had was fishing and farming, so he loved to fish, and he fished every day.  So they gave him the name "Fish."  And my brother, Eddie, they call him "Fish" to this day.

Bo:And your brother is one of 16?

RV:I'm number 16 of 17 children.

Bo:So you grew up in a home where – you probably shared your room with a few people.

RV:Oh, yeah, shared the bed with two other brothers.

Denni:You said you'd never been to Disneyland.

RV:No, but I lived in Disney World, and there was so much joy and so much going on in my house, the dinner table was awesome. You know, being one of the babies and listening to all the different things that my older brothers and sisters would talk about.  Family was just an important part of my life.

Bo:And when you talk about the joy, you guys – I mean – 16 brothers and sisters, 17 kids in the family, you probably didn't have a whole lot, did you?

RV:Well, we didn't have a whole lot of food, what's called "fancy" food, but we had some butter beans, some cornbread. My mom was an awesome cook, and I would watch her put the food on the table – she'd back off in the corner, and I didn't realize, being a little baby, what she was doing.  She was praying, and I never saw the pot get empty.  Always saw enough food come out of that pot, and as I got older and became a man of God, I understood what she was doing.  She was praying that the food never went out, because I watched my mom cook, and she prayed the whole time while she was cooking, all through the house.

So that's why I love to pray, and I had a daddy got up every morning at 5 and went to work, and that's what made me know that a man is supposed to work, a man is supposed to take care of his family.  And I know it was tough, raising 17 kids, but my dad and mom never left one another until my dad died, and that's what made an impact. He stuck it out; he showed me what responsibility of a man should be.

Denni:Your dad's name was Willie "Fish" Brown, and he really did have a great impact in your life. What was he like?  By the way, what did he do, too, to support …

RV:He worked in a fertilizer factory and farmed.  He worked at the fertilizer factory, it was probably about a mile and a half, two miles from the house.  He walked two miles, walked two miles back.

Denni:How did he support 17 kids working at the fertilizer plant?

RV:Well, he farmed, too. And when we came along, the little ones, some of the older

ones were gone.  So 13 of us being there, and every year somebody was leaving.  You know, they were getting older and joining the service and getting married and moving out.  So by the time I reached junior high school, most of them were gone. But from a little kid up, it was 12 or 13 of us there.

Denni: Seventeen – how many were college graduates?

RV:Four of us, four of us went to college.  I think myself, my brother were the only two

graduated, and the others went through the service and got their degrees and worked that – they're nurses and different things through the armed forces.

Bo:And you had chores, growing up, right?

RV:Oh, listen, my mom had us so organized.  You cut the wood a week, you rake the yard a week, you mop the floors a week, you wash dishes for a week, clean the bedroom a week, and then the seventh week you had that week off. And if she needed you to go to the store, you'd go to the store [unintelligible], then you start that cycle all over again. There was no such thing as you didn't have chores.

And my daddy would always say when he come home, "Did you do what your mama tell you to do today?"  And if you didn't, he would pick up something and wail you with it.

Denni: I've got to stop you there, RV, because some of our listeners might think that sounds abusive.  Did you ever feel like you were abused as a boy?

RV:No, sir.  I am so glad that my mom and dad disciplined me, because I'm the kind of husband and the man that I am – I'm a disciplined man today. That's why I can work out, and I'm 53 years old – still bench press 405, still take 120-pound dumbbell, because I'm disciplined because my dad taught me discipline by disciplining me. He didn't hurt me. I got 17 brothers and sisters. They'll tell you the same thing.  It didn't hurt us, it made us a family, and we knew we were loved through discipline you earn love. When you don't discipline a child, he doesn’t believe you love him.

Bo:Now, you know, even as you say that, you know there are some dads who are abusing their kids.

RV:Right, oh, yeah.

Bo:What's the difference between what your dad did when he'd wail on you, and the abusive dad?

RV:Well, see, when my dad wailed on me, it's because you know you did something wrong. When a dad abuses a kid because he gets angry about what happens outside of the house, the same thing I do with my kids. I spank them, but I always put my arm around them and hug them and tell them why.  I'll ask my son and daughter, "Why did daddy discipline you?"  "Because you love me." "Why?" "Because I did so and so." So you give them a hug and kiss and the kid goes off happy.

But if you discipline a kid and walk away from them and let them get angry with you because you disciplined him, it's a different story.  So talk to your children, Dad. Talk to your children, Mom. When you talk to a child, they're going to understand why he had that whipping, see?  Like I tell my son, "I've raised you. You've never seen me drink, you've never seen me smoke, you've never heard me use profanity."  There is nobody can come to my house and smoke.

My mother-in-law smokes cigarettes, I put her a table out on the back on the deck, and, mama, that's where you smoke at. My wife said, "Well, how are you going to do that?" I said, "This is my house. When she leave, I don't want to smell her." So I put a cigarette ashtray out there and a pretty tablecloth on it, and I would go out and sit with her. I'd say, "Mama, this is where you smoke, because I don't let nobody do anything in my house that my kids would see me do." So my house was my castle. So we're a team. My wife and I are a team, and we give families start living as a team.  Mom and Daddy do things as a team not as individuals.

Denni:RV, you've already mentioned your dad was a disciplinarian.  If you had to distill his life into a single word – now – you mentioned he left you a great and a powerful legacy. What word would you pick for the legacy of your father?

RV:Honor, because my daddy – everybody knew my father. Everybody knew what my daddy stood for. Kids would be at my house all day long because they enjoyed being around my dad. My dad would talk, and the honor and the respect that people had for my daddy, it made me feel proud.

Now, here's a man that couldn't read and write, but he was so aware of honor that it made me want to be like my dad. And that's why I live the way I live because of the legacy my dad set down before me. Everybody would come and ask my daddy, "How do you do this, Willie?" "How do you do this, Fish," and I would sit there listening because he retired at 70 years old when I was in the first grade.  So I was around his ankle.

Bo:Whoa, whoa, whoa – he was 70, and you were in the first grade?

Denni:You were six years old, which means …

RV:My daddy was 63 years old when I was born.

Denni:Yeah, yeah, I can do the math.

RV:He retired when I was seven years old, when I was in the first grade.  So I was under him a lot. That's why I was so attached to my dad.

Denni: And how old was your mom?

RV:Well, he met my mom at 14.

Bo:She was a number of years younger than your father?

RV:Oh, yeah, yeah.


Bo:Okay.  Let me go back to this issue of honor, though.  What was it that made people in town come ask your dad questions?

RV:Because he cared. When we had a farm, my dad would feed other people.

I used to wonder why would he give them corn? Why would he give them okra? Why would he give them peas when we've got all these kids to feed? My daddy told me something, he says, "Son, it doesn't matter what people do for you. It's what you do for others. God will always make sure you will eat."

Now, here is a man that didn't have [unintelligible] but his lifestyle was so positive, he would give people food, and I'd say, "Why would you want to feed them food?" And I'd say, "Look, we don't have enough food for ourselves," but he'd always give it away. We never went hungry, we never went hungry because of who daddy was.  He was so well honored, and that's what makes me live the lifestyle I do because I want to be honored at the end of my life like my dad was honored.

Denni:You mentioned that you grew up with 13 because four had already flown the coop.


Denni: I'm just kind of picturing, Bob, what a family of – well, a family of 17 children looks like, and I'm going to ask you a really tough question. Bob hates for me to ask these kind of questions, but I think you can handle it, all right?


Denni: All right, the question is this – if you could only keep one memory of your mom and dad and your family together when you were growing up, what memory would you keep and why?

RV:The dinner table because that's when everybody had a chance to talk and share what happens during the day. When my kids would get at the dinner table, I will let my kids talk, because family need to know that when I come to the table, my wife and I could not carry on a conversation, we could only talk to Xavier and Summer, we could not talk to ourselves, so the family – kids – know we can get to the dinner table with mom and dad, we can talk and they've got to listen. That's the rule that I set up in my household – that mom and dad – we could not carry on a conversation – so if I start talking to my wife, Xavier said, "Daddy, you all can't talk at the dinner table," and which made the family time more powerful, and, to me, at the dinner table because everybody talks, and my daddy would sit at the dinner table with a bench – we had benches around the table, we didn't have chairs, and his chair had arms on it, and he would sit and listen to all the conversation, and at the end Daddy would clear his throat, and everybody would look, and that old man would share some wisdom.

I can't describe when my daddy spoke with such a soft tone of voice and command so much authority when he spoke, and everybody would listen. And with me being one of the little ones looking up over the table, you know, I was proud of my dad.

Denni: I want to know two things – I want to know what you kids talked about, and then I want to hear just one of the statements of wisdom that stuck with you throughout your life.  You're 53 now, so I'm going to ask you to go back 40-plus years and revisit that moment. What did you kids all talk about?  Just the normal stuff of kids or was it …

Bo:I'm trying to imagine the dinner table. Was this a huge table?

RV:Well, it was a table maybe about half the size of this, but it was long, and it had benches around it, and all the kids would be there.

Bo:Everybody crowded around?

RV:Everybody around the table.  And my greatest part of the table, don't let the biscuits run out before they get to the end of the table, because you're the little one, you're lucky if you get a biscuit on the other end.

Denni:Now, did you have an assigned seat?

RV:Oh, yeah, everybody – all the little ones sat at the end of the table, and all the old ones sat at the other end.

Denni: So did the food start with the younger ones?

RV:It started with the older ones.

Denni: It would start with the older ones?

RV:Yes, because they worked.  They worked. They were in the family, they were helping pay the bills. They were working, and so – and it never ran out.  My mama had enough food on the table.

Denni:Well, I was going to say, you don't look like you …

RV:Missed too many meals? [laughter]

Denni: Let's go back to the meal, though. What did you talk about, then, as a group of kids?

RV:They would talk about work, there was someone would talk about school, someone would talk about when they were in the Army, and I was sitting there, I would be so in awe at my older brothers and sisters and what they were talking about and the family things, and, you know, how we had to wash clothes. Boy, you didn't wash no clothes, you know you got your finger stuck in that machine and it psswssshhhg.  It was Walt Disney at the table.  It was so much fun, and that's why I cut up a lot at my home.

I'll walk out of the house with my pants turned the wrong side.  You know, the kids look at me, like, "I can't believe Daddy's doing that."  I'll go in the garage, turn the main switch, cut all our lights in the house, and they scream and holler. They don't even know I'm in the house. I'll say, "What are you all doing, kids?" And they just scream. I think Daddy brings the life to the family like my daddy did.  He couldn't read and write, but he brought so much life to the family.

After they would all talk, my daddy would say, "Now, let me tell you something. This is how you treat people, because you want to make it in this society, you've got to be careful with the people you deal with down here, because when you get up there, there won't be nobody but you're by yourself."  This is the kind of thing my daddy would talk about – couldn't read, but he had heard the Bible so much, he could start quoting that Bible.  You start talking about the children, and he'll

tell you; talk about Moses, he'll just tell you. He heard the Bible so much, and the wisdom that poured onto that table every day, the little things, you know, like, one day I was getting ready to take my bb gun and shoot this lady for picking peas in my daddy's field, because she wouldn't give me my baseball out of her yard.

She told me I couldn't get it.

Denni:You were going to shoot her?

RV:With the bb gun, and I was hiding behind a tree, and my daddy said, "What are you going to do?"  Because I was going to pop her in her rear end, because she wouldn't give me my baseball.  So I was going bead on her. And my daddy said, "What are you going to do, son?"  And I started crying and said, "Daddy, she won't give me my baseball."  He said, "Let me tell you something. That woman sitting out there is trying to feed her family, and you're getting ready to shoot her with that bb gun, and you hurt her, she may go home, and her family not eat today because of what you did to her.  Now, you get up and go apologize to that woman."

And I go and talk to her, and she said, "If whether she gives you that baseball or not, she's still to be respected." And that's the kind of stuff that my dad would talk.  Now that I'm older and find out where did he get all that from?  He didn't know anything about what I know today, but the wisdom that he imparted on all those children, and it lives in me today.

Denni:Do you ever wonder where he got it? Where did he – and I'm not talking about the wisdom, but where did he get the concept of leading his family spiritually? Because you're really describing a dad who is taking on the responsibility of loving well and leaving well.

RV:I was born in the church, and, you see, in the old days, you go to church, especially the black church, you go to church and Sunday school at 9:30. You didn't get home until 3:00, because the preacher only came once every third Sunday or every second Sunday he would come.  So you stayed there all – he'd preach two or three sermons to you that day.  Then you're gone.

So you get enough to last for the next month because he had so many churches. So he only came once a month, and then it got to the point where he started to come– somebody would come every other week.  And so he'd learn it from that.

Denni:Did he have a good family that he grew up in?

RV:No, no.  His daddy had children there and there and there.

Denni: So he could have easily been a victim.

RV:Could have easily been a victim. That's why I say it's not what you born as, it's what you become. And my daddy became a great man because of what he was taught in church.  So the church taught my daddy how to be a daddy.  So some pastor somewhere spilled in my daddy, "You take care of your family, Fish."

Denni: And he caught the picture?


RV:He caught the picture, and he never walked away from his responsibility, and that's why I am the way I am today, because I saw that man go to work, come home – he went to work black and came home white because he was drenched in fertilizer every day.

Denni: Talk to us about your daddy's relationship with your mom. Was he gentle with her or was he rough with her?

RV:No, he was gentle with my mom, because my mom – her last name was

Middleton. She'd say "Nobody does a Middleton bad."  You know, she was a little short tiny thing, and my dad was five-foot-eight, and they'd always talk.

Bo:Her name was Militant, that was her last name?


Bo:Oh, Middleton. [laughter]

RV:So my mom and dad worked together, because my daddy worked hard, and my mama would cook breakfast for my dad, have his breakfast ready for him to go to work, lunch packed, go to work, she'd come home, he'd get out to that field farming, she'd have dinner ready for him.  I mean, it was love.  It was love, and that's what I saw.  So when I married my wife, I told my wife, "Listen, I want your Social Security card."  So I got her Social Security card, I said, "Listen, if you

ever leave me, I'll find you, because you can't change a Social Security number. So you're stuck for life.

And I want men to hear me today saying, "When you put that ring on a woman's finger" – my ring has never been off my finger in 29 years.  I've never taken it off in the gym or nothing else.  And it's got scars on it because in any marriage there's going to be some scars, and it still shines every day after 29 years, it still shines. So that ring has no broken parts in it.

When you slide that ring on her finger, there's no broken parts in it, it's only scarred, and you're going to have some tough times in your marriage, but if you're always praying together, God won't give – and that's a thing I want to say, too – my mom and daddy prayed together every night.

I would hear my mom and daddy call all to his name, and all 17 kids' names, and then she'd get to my name, I'd clog up my ears, because I'm going to be bad like those kids down the street. She said, "Lord, you chastise RV.  Have RV do what you want him to do." I'm right where my mom and daddy prayed.  I'm a preacher of the Gospel today because my mom and daddy prayed "chastise" – and most

of you know what that word "chastise" mean – you get a whuppin', God want to do something with you.  So my mama said, "Lord, you chastise RV, have RV" – because I must have been a rascal. And she said –

Denni:Hold it, hold it, hold it, you must have been a rascal?  You know you were a rascal, RV. [laughter]

RV:She said "chastise him."  They all would say the same thing – they prayed for us. And that's why not too many of us got into trouble too often, because my mom and daddy spent a lot of time praying together, spent that time talking to one another, and we don't do that anymore. We don't talk anymore.

My wife will tell me, "Be quiet," because I love to talk. She came from a single- parent home.  She came from a whole different side than what I came – I came from a double-parent home, I came from love and – well, she didn't have it because her father was not in the home.

Bo:And I wanted to ask you about that.  You know how unusual it is that you grew up in the home you did.

RV:Oh, no, no, it's not unusual, it's a miracle that to have that much joy and that much you can cling to in your family.

Bo:Intact family, honorable father, not out fooling around …

RV:… not out fooling around.

Bo:Not out drinking.

RV:Not out drinking.

Bo:He is taking care of business.

RV:Taking care of business.

Bo:You've got a family of 17, it's intact, going to church, bills are getting paid.


RV:Bills are getting paid, and mom and dad was on – he would give her his check.  He'd come home, he'd give her the check because she would buy the groceries because he was at work, and on Saturday – we farmed all day Saturday, so by him doing that, that lets me know that you've got to work together. My wife takes care of all the bills.  Everything my parents – I'm doing the same thing.  I love my wife more today than I did 29 years ago when I married her.  Why? Because that's what I know.  All I know is to love my wife the way my dad loved my mom.

Bo:This is a legacy that any son would long to have, isn't it?

Denni: It really is, and I've got one more question for you, RV, and then I want

Bob to tell our listeners how they can get a copy of your book, StepUptothe Plate, Dad!Here is the question – this is the hardest question we've asked you in this interview.  Name all of your brothers and sisters, starting from the oldest to the youngest.

RV:Okay, you've got Willie, you've got Julia, you've got Newell, you've got

Eloise, you've got Barney, you've got Ed, Clemenir [sp], Douglas, Diaphos [sp], Wemay [sp], Terry Ann, and Willie Ann, Helen, Shay, Tony, Cozy, RV.  I think I got them all.

Denni: If not, and they're listening – they'll write you.

RV:They'll write me, they'll write me.

Bo:They all have copies of your book, StepUpto thePlate,Dad! and we've got copies of it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy they can go to There’s information on the web site of how you can get a copy of the book by RV Brown, StepUp tothe Plate,Dad!

There’s also information there about a couple of books that I used to keep in the glove compartment of my car when my kids were younger.  One’s called Howto beYour Daughter's Daddy, and the other is called HowtobeYour LittleMan's Dad.  And they are chockfull of just very practical things dads can do to connect relationally with sons and daughters.  Again, information about those books is available on our web site as well at  You can also call us at

1-800-FLTODAY for more information on how you can get copies of these books sent out to you.  Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F- as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

A few years back I was thinking about the fact that as husbands and dads never really got an instruction on how to be a husband or dad like RV’s father who provided a model for us.  But for most of us especially when it comes to being a husband we just never had anybody sit us down and tell us what the job description for being a husband ought to look like.  So I started writing out some of my thoughts on what the scriptures say about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a husband and how you love your wife well.  Over time those thoughts became a book titled, The ChristianHusband.

This month our team has decided to make copies of that book available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. We are listener supported and your donations are essential for the ongoing operation of not only this radio program but all that we do here at FamilyLife.

We appreciate your financial support and again if you can help us with a donation here during the month of June we’d love to send you a copy of TheChristian Husband. All you have to do is as you make your donation on our web site, type the word “husband” in the key code box that you find on the donation form. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can make a donation over the phone and mention you’d like to receive a copy of the book TheChristian Husband.  We’re glad to send it out to you. Thanks for your support for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Tomorrow we’re going to be back with our guest, RV Brown and we’re going to hear about the time that RV decided he would roll his daughter’s hair.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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