Review of Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, authors Phil Robertson and Mark Schlabach.
This book is co-written by Phil Robertson, the father of “The Robertson Clan”, as they’re sometimes referred to by fans of the Duck Dynasty show on the A&E network. In it he tells his life story, and how he started out in extreme poverty, started a business, and saw it flourish when he handed it over to his sons.
Setting my personal views aside, the rags-to-riches story may seem familiar at first. We’ve all heard of the Cinderella story that usually starts in the school of hard knocks and ends with an advanced degree in fame and success. Even though this theme dominates a lot of autobiographies, I never get tired of them because each life’s story is brand new and has something unique to offer.
The thing that Mr. Robertson points out in his book is that he never really planned to become rich and famous. He was content to lead a simple life in Louisiana, making what he could from his smallish duck call business. But fate, or God as Robertson says, had other plans.
One interesting note is that we could easily have watched him on TV as a professional football player with talents that virtually superseded Terry Bradshaw, but Robertson took the road less traveled and ended up a TV icon of a different sort. His story is just one example of how life’s detours turn out to be positive turns and gigantic successes.
His life journey is interesting enough, and his accomplishments are great. But I suspect that his “humble beginnings” were humbler than he even remembers. Years and time have a way of softening reality. And when he speaks of those hard early years, you somehow get the feeling he’s minimizing it a bit, but not on purpose.
I liked the first part of the book more than the latter, perhaps because of the stories he told of his impoverished childhood and simple ways. When he told of the time his family had no indoor bathroom, it reminded me of the very same circumstance from my own childhood on my grandparents’ farm.
I suspect that people from all generations, rich or poor, will find something to like in the book. Phil doesn’t sugarcoat his young adult days as a hell-raiser. This was before he became a follower of Christ. His honesty makes him very human, and therefore sympathetic. Even the most villainous of villains in super-hero movies have tragic beginnings that somehow lead us to sympathize with them. He’s been a drinker and an abuser, and I recommend reading audiences give the book a chance before dismissing it as just another come-to-Jesus moment. It’s that, and more, hard knocks included.
He seems to be a man who has made many mistakes, but one who learns from them, often after hurting others in the process. Not many would lay their sins and mistakes on the table for all to see, but I’m guessing he does this for attention of the right kind. The kind that draws attention to the positive change that can happen in a bad man’s life and soul when he learns to depend on his faith in a higher power rather than his own. He describes how he never dreamed that turning his small business over to his sons to manage would result in a real duck dynasty. Before A&E came calling, he and his family had already reached well-to-do status, thanks to the success of the duck call business, and a popular homemade DVD series called Duck Commander. They were big in Louisiana and hunting circles but weren’t household names. Duck Dynasty shot them onto the map and into superstardom.
Phil Robertson is unapologetic in his views and statements, which have ruffled more than a few feathers and invited criticism from both sides of the aisle. Like him or dislike him, freedom of speech is still alive and well in the United States, and so is freedom of religion and freedom of the press. I may not personally agree with all he has to say, but as Voltaire said, I defend his right to say it, and I think Mr. Robertson would be the first to tell you that you’re never too old to make mistakes, and never too old to learn from them.
If you don’t like Duck Dynasty, the family members, or conservative Christian values, you probably won’t like this book, but remember that it’s written by one man’s point of view. He doesn’t speak for all families, nor all Christians or conservatives. He’s simply laying his life out in the pages of a book to show you what went on during his past, and present.
Besides being a former football player, duck call entrepreneur, and reality TV star, Phil Robertson also preaches, which is something he’s done for years. He doesn’t need to do this for a job or for recognition. He already had that. He seems to do it from conviction and seems to be influential somewhat in political circles.
Despite the sometimes harsh elements described in Phil’s earlier years, the book is easy to read, and you’ll be finished before you know it. The book may not change your opinion of the man, but it can shed some light into what makes him tick. Based on his persona on the Duck Dynasty show, he cares about what his family thinks of him, but not so much what the rest of the world thinks, and this is part of his appeal—the gruff patriarch who speaks his mind, regardless of consequences.
he book could easily be used as the foundation for a biopic on the level of Walk the Line (Johnny Cash, entertainer), Coal Miner’s Daughter (Loretta Lynn, entertainer), or Hacksaw Ridge (Desmond Doss, conscientious objector).
This book is published by Simon and Schuster, and is also available as an audiobook, which is read by Phil Robertson and one of his sons, Alan Robertson, who has been a preacher for several years and not featured very often on the TV show.
Phil seems to love offering life lessons to anyone who will listen. The written word is just one of the many ways he has of delivering them. His experiences are often heard via video on YouTube, documentaries, and TV talk show interviews. Although his views often land him in hot water in some circles, fans and non-fans have come to expect his controversial philosophies. In a way, you get used to them, shrug, and say, “What else would you expect from a 70+-year-old man set in his ways?”
This isn’t to excuse his views, rather view them from a different angle-his.
The book starts out a little preachy, which is in direct opposition to his rowdy early life, but this is what keeps the pages turning. He talks about how TV audiences eat up trashy reality shows and begin to accept and expect trashy family life as the norm. He espouses traditional family values, and there is nothing wrong with that, but his diametrically opposed comparisons do make you think about how far off the rails TV families have come since Father Knows Best.
The age-old question, “Does life imitate art, or art imitate life?” applies here in his comparisons. Are reality TV families a reflection of real family life, or do real-life families take on the characteristics of reality TV families? He practically begs real-life families to take a close look at themselves to see how they stack up against TV families and urges all to mend broken ties, lay their electronic devices down for a while, and improve relations.
The truth almost always lies somewhere in the middle. Real families aren’t as dysfunctional as the ones portrayed in books and on TV—which are presented as extremes for effect and high book sales or ratings. And the issues real families face aren’t wrapped up in thirty minutes or in the final chapter of a book.
ou may laugh at the thought of comparing Robertson to the literary giants of the past who are nature enthusiasts, like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or William Wordsworth, but you may not laugh at the comparison between him and Jack London, author of Call of the Wild In a way Robertson is a lot like London—a survivalist, a hunter, an outdoorsman, a champion of nature. He doesn’t just play a caricature of himself on reality TV—he was actually living it years before the cameras came calling.
Perhaps the most poignant parts of the book lie in the hope and faith that Mrs. Robinson placed in her husband and children. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if not for her, he would have ended his life years ago. But he has admitted his mistakes, paid his dues, and has learned a better way. This book does another thing, and that offers hope to families who think that they may be too broken and too far gone to rehabilitate.