As the revered patriarch and matriarch of the Duck Dynasty family, many perceive Phil and Kay Roberston to have the picture-perfect marriage. But it turns out, the road that led them to the unbreakable bond they share today was paved in anything but roses. In a recent Focus on the Family broadcast hosted by Jim Daly and John Fuller, the reality TV stars opened up about their tumultuous early years and how God forged their marriage in the fire of his love.
After having the concept of “one man and one wife for one life” seared in her heart by her grandmother, Kay always thought she would live in one of those fairy-tale ‘happily ever after’ love stories that didn’t require much work. She admits the idea of fighting for her marriage sounded like a totally “ridiculous” concept — until she found herself battling for dear life just to hang on to her own.
In their 20s, Phil and Kay started to have struggles that neither of them foresaw in their lovestruck honeymoon stage.
As a bar owner, Phil often spent many late nights getting drunk and neglecting his wife, which was far from the fairy-tale expectation Kay had in mind… especially for a girl who had always been relatively “good.” How did she deserve this kind of treatment, and how had she failed at the thing she poured her WHOLE heart and soul into?
“The problem was — in a nutshell, is that I didn’t know Jesus,” said Phil.
After many years of rebellion, he recalled the moment he sat down with a preacher (who he was previously rude to) who patiently told him about the hope in Jesus.
“I listened to what he had to say,” said Phil. “Well, he then proceeded to tell me God becoming flesh, Jesus — I’m like — died on a cross to remove my sins, which were many, and was buried in a tomb. And when he got to the resurrection of the dead, he said, ‘Three days after he died, Phil, for your sins, he was raised from the dead.’ I didn’t know that. And I thought, ‘Huh.’ I said, ‘How in the world did I ever miss that?'”
But Phil being presented with the Truth did not translate into an instant conversion or a restoration of his crumbling relationship with his wife.
Kay vividly recalled her breaking point with Phil as she poured her tears out on the bathroom floor one night early in their marriage:
“That night, I mean, it was just so hard. I went in the bathroom, and I remember feeling like – I know how people feel when they get just completely hopeless because the thing that I had put my life into, which was my marriage, my children, the home, everything – but what I really didn’t understand – the reason I didn’t do a lot of bad things that he did and all that, it was my grandmother, but I was operating on her faith, or trying to. But, you know, that night is when I realized that I had to have my own faith… But that night, I literally went in that bathroom, and I was on the floor crying. And he was drunk in the living room. And I was crying. And I really, really, for the first time in my life thought, I want to just go to sleep and not wake up. I wanted to do anything that – so he’ll see. Of course, I really don’t think I wanted to die, but I wanted to hurt him or do something where he would be shocked.”
For the first time in her life, Kay thought it would be an easier way out to just disappear, if only for the sake of getting the attention from her husband that she so desperately yearned for.
“I really did have the suicide thoughts,” she added. “There’s no doubt about that. And I can’t say I didn’t, because I did.”
And that’s when her first little miracle of restoration happened. God walked in the room through the tiny footsteps of her 9-year-old son Alan…
“And that’s when I tell the story – and it’s a true story – that I heard these three little feet – sets of feet – and I could hear them because they had the house shoes on. I know because I bought them. And knock, knock, knock. And Alan always says that was his first sermon. And it was… And he said, ‘Mama, don’t cry. Don’t cry anymore.’ He said, ‘God is going take care of us.'”
“It was my starting of repentance,” said Kay.
Soon after, she decided to sit down with the same preacher who her husband talked to in order to learn more about finding a faith of her own:
“And when I went to that same man that he talked to – and I went to him the next day over at the church and it was about 30 minutes or 20 minutes from where I lived. You know – he said, ‘Well, do you think if you died tonight you’d go to heaven?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d shoot up there like a rocket.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you about who I’ve been living with.’ So I went in to how bad he was. And we went all that, and he said ‘No.’ He said, ‘It’s just going to be you and God.’ And he said, ‘Can I tell you a story? And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘You may think different about this because what you’re saying here is you should’ve earned your way to heaven, right?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well, do you have peace?” And I said, ‘Now, that’s what’s wrong. There’s something wrong there because I don’t have that peace. And I know it’s in the Bible. And I know it’s about it, so something’s missing.’ And that is when I came to Christ. And – but the best thing he told me – and people should know this every time – your circumstances won’t be different. When I came home, he was still drinking and calling me names.”
Kay emphasized that people shouldn’t expect to not have marriage problems after coming to Jesus, but it does give them an unshakeable foundation.
“You’ve got an anchor that’ll never leave, inside you,” she shared. “But your circumstances…I think people think ‘Oh, I should be OK. There should be no problems in my life.’ That’s not the truth.”
In fact, things got worse before they got better for the Robertsons. In his rage, Phil eventually ended up kicking Kay and the kids out when she became heavily involved in her church.
But then one day, his wife’s fervent prayers for his repentance paid off when Phil showed up teary-eyed in his gray truck at her work.
“I saw that old gray truck out there sitting in the parking lot,” said Kay. “And he had his head down on the steering wheel when I saw him. So I went out there. And when I opened the door, I looked at him. And he had tears. And he said, ‘Look.’ He said, ‘I want my family back, and I won’t drink anymore.’ And, you know, the part of me that saw the humbleness in him said, ‘Oh, yes, yes. That’s what I want.’ You know, that’s what I prayed for. We prayed every day for him.”
“But part of me inside said, ‘He can’t make it without God. I know that,'” said Kay. “So I told him – I said, ‘Phil, you’ve got to have help.’ And Phil said, ‘Uh, you’re talking about God.'”
In fact, she was.
And to this day, over four decades later, Phil claims that his decision to pursue God with all his heart is the best one he’s ever made.
“You can go from an evil person to a person who demonstrates love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control,” said Phil. “You’re like, how do you go from one group to the other? We tend to look at the word repent, repentance as a bad thing. I am thankful that God allowed us and gave us the ability to change our mind, to repent, and take a different course of action. It’s a wonderful thing that he allowed us to be able to stop and start over. You can be born again. And so the change that took place back there all those years ago – 43 years ago – the change that took place is literally stunning.”
“The most needed indispensable thing on planet earth right now is what Jesus said,” added Phil. “Look here’s the greatest commands that there are. There are no rules except love God and love your neighbor. Well, if we just – if we just did that – just think about what kind of society and world we would have.”
See more from Phil and Kay Robertson’s powerful testimony in their full interview with Focus on the Family.