Although I’ve never hunted, there is an undeniable sense of power involved with shooting a shotgun. Maybe it’s the harsh kick against your shoulder as a clay pigeon many yards away explodes in mid-air and a trickle of gunpowder scent tickles your nostrils. It is a temptation, however, I think most people—present writer included—should avoid. I don’t own a gun and I don’t watch television. I suppose that makes me a kind of pariah in my own country, but when I heard about Phil Robertson’s book Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, I knew I would eventually read it. I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty, but like Phil Robertson, I grew up in a family that middle-class folks would consider poor. Even now, many decades and degrees later, I’m still playing catch-up, unable to afford a house. Worried excessively about college payments. So how did Robertson do it? How did he become a millionaire and find a publisher? According to his book the answer is simple: Jesus Christ.
Happy, Happy, Happy is an engaging memoir. While I disagree with most of what Robertson says, it’s hard not to like him. A simple, self-made man from humble circumstances. He hides his master’s degree well. Like Augustine, however, it was only after a misspent youth that he insists others don’t do the same. “God grant me chastity,” Augustine once quipped, “but not yet.” Robertson found Jesus, or the other way around, in his mid-twenties. He, not unlike many victims in recovery, gives the credit to God. His answers are simple: read the Bible, live by it, kill ducks, and everything will be fine. Interestingly enough, two of his four sons, raised on the Gospel, also went astray before seeing the light. This is not schadenfreude on my part: I have personal experience with family “on the wild side” and I would never wish it on anyone. It’s just that the law of averages isn’t so great here. For half the boys the Gospel wasn’t enough, at least at first. The darkness pushed them toward the light. Simple fixes almost never lead to viable long-term solutions.
Phil Robertson is another of those reality TV phenomena of the “plain folk” that so fascinate media types. They can’t seem to get enough. Some of us authentically paid that price below the selective eye of the media. For some of us, the answers are much more complex, if not distressing. Hard to put that up on the screen and guarantee your advertisers that people will watch. We only want complexity knocked down. Even the fun Big Bang Theory wouldn’t be nearly so popular if the smart guys didn’t get their comeuppance week after week. I am moved by Robertson’s story. His devotion to the Gospel is admirable and it is clear that it makes him happy (happy, happy). If I ever met him I would probably nod politely in agreement, although my experience has diverged from his. We would probably have to eat at separate tables, despite my good will. The fact is, he has lots of guns and I have none.