A New Season
Chapter 1 THE BEARDLESS BROTHER
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret . . .
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they were all written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
AL: People frequently associate the men of Duck Dynasty with long, bushy beards. My dad has one, my brothers all have one, and my uncle Si has one that is a little bit lopsided so it won’t interfere with his shotgun. Not me. I’m often called the “Beardless Brother.”
I have not been featured on our television show as much as my brothers have, especially Willie and Jase. My first significant appearance on our family’s television show came when I had the honor of officiating my parents’ vow renewal in the premiere of season four. I have heard that episode brought tears to the eyes of a lot of our fans, especially those aware of the hardships my
parents endured during their early years of marriage. My mom definitely suffered, and from the time I was very young, I had an up-close and personal view of her struggles and her courage. I witnessed things no one else saw in those days in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Maybe that’s why leading my parents in that beautiful service by the river meant so much to me. Sure, being on television was fun, but standing before our family and friends and seeing my parents so in love and so committed after almost fifty years together—some wonderful years, some horrible—brought me true joy and happiness.
When I do appear on Duck Dynasty, I usually play the role of mediator, voice of reason, or go-to person when someone has a problem. Not much different from the way I function in our family in real life! At a young age, I found myself needing to shoulder a lot of responsibility, and as the big brother to three younger boys whose father was gone a lot, I became a leader in my family. With the exception of a season of foolishness and wild living, I have been a leader ever since. From time to time, though, I do still like to irritate my brothers for fun. Only an older brother can do that in love, right?
Having grown up as the son of the Duck Commander, I definitely know how to make a good duck call, and I enjoy being in a duck blind as much as the other men in my family. Though I am part of our family business now, I spent many years of my professional life in church work and ministry. That, and the fact that I’m clean shaven, sets me apart from my dad, my brothers, and Uncle Si in the minds of our audience. Those things have also made
me a little mysterious, so in this chapter I want to give people a chance to get to know me, the Beardless Brother.
A LUMPY MONKEY
You may be aware that my mom, known as “Miss Kay,” got pregnant with me before she and my dad, Phil, were married. My mom turned seventeen on December 21, 1964, while she and Dad were living in Ruston, Louisiana, where he attended Louisiana Tech University. I was born at Lincoln General Hospital in Ruston on January 5, 1965. I guess I could say that, at just a few days old, I made my media debut in a local newspaper photo with Mom because I was the first baby born in Lincoln parish that year. Obviously, if five days of the New Year passed before a baby was born in the parish, the population was not exactly booming.
Mom was so young and inexperienced that she thought babies were like puppies—she didn’t know my eyes were supposed to be open.
Unfortunately, I was not what people consider a “beautiful baby.” I had to fight to make my entrance into the world and was finally delivered by forceps, which made my head lumpy. In addition, the forceps slipped during my birth and hit my left eye. The eye did not open for three weeks! Mom was so young and inexperienced that she thought babies were like puppies—she didn’t know my eyes were supposed to be open. All of this resulted in my uncle Tommy’s giving me the nickname “Lumpy Monkey.”
Our young family spent a lot of time with Uncle Tommy and his wife during my first few years because he and my dad were both in college and Dad was a star quarterback. I will always respect my mom for finishing high school with a newborn and a husband who felt more comfortable in a duck blind or on a football field than changing diapers. My mom has written about this time in our lives in The Women of Duck Commander, and Dad wrote about it in Happy, Happy, Happy, so I will not go into detail. I will just say it was a very rough time for all of us. My dad was the way he was—which was very challenging to say the least—and my mom stuck it out.
When I was four years old, Dad graduated college and we moved to Junction City, Arkansas, where he took a job teaching and coaching at a school while working on his master’s degree. Mom worked for the superintendent of the school system, and with both of my parents employed by the school district, we were able to live in a house on the school campus. Later that year, Jase was born.
In those days, in a small town in Arkansas, there was no such thing as day care or Mother’s Day Out. My parents had to work, so they found someone to care for Jase and enrolled me in school. Even though I entered first grade at only four years old, I was somehow able to handle myself socially and academically with six-year-olds.
By the time I was in third grade, life was wonderful for me. We still lived on the school property, which meant the whole playground was available to me whenever I wanted to build forts, zip down a slide, or swing on the monkey bars. In addition, the nearby cemetery proved irresistible to me as an adventurous, imaginative, all-boy kind of kid. I do not remember ever being afraid of much. In fact, I was infatuated with fire and even jumped into a pile of smoldering debris in our local dump, burning both my feet. Apparently, I didn’t learn my lesson, because on another occasion, I took a running leap into a pile of dry leaves—not realizing they were actually covering a lower layer of leaves that had been reduced to embers—and burned my feet again, resulting in major blisters for days.
We had no money for doctor bills in those days, so whether I had burned feet or one of my many cuts and bruises, Mom or Dad did the best they could with it. I’m sure Mom had a habit, like many mothers, of kissing things to make them better, and I remember Dad taking a needle and thread to stitch together some of my most gaping wounds. Things like that might be appalling to people today, but they characterized the way we lived.
BAD COMPANY, GOOD NEIGHBORS
During that time, Dad had some hunting buddies who were not good influences on him. He began to spend more time drinking and carousing with them and less time at home with us. So, of
course, my parents’ marriage became more difficult than it already was, and Dad became abusive. His abuse was mostly verbal, not often physical. I did get spanked on a regular basis, but I have to admit that I deserved most of those spankings.
As our family life deteriorated, I began to feel responsible for certain things. In a way, maybe I felt I had to be the man of the house because no one else was filling that role. I definitely cared about my mother and hated the way she was being treated, but she handled these less-than-ideal circumstances with great strength and courage. Mom was very aware of her need to work in those early days and help provide for our family. I think she learned early that she would always have to carry a heavier load than most women, as she tried to be there for her boys and work to make up for Dad’s deficiencies. She had an inner strength and knew that she was able to be both parents when Dad wasn’t around. She took care of Jase and me, but I also took on a caretaking role for Jase. Even at that young age, I understood intuitively that our family situation was bad, and something in me wanted to look out for my little brother.
I had no idea that someone—or Someone—had been looking out for me too. I now know that God had an amazing couple in place to help me after we moved onto the school property. Back then, I just thought they were nice neighbors. This preacher and his wife, Brother and Sister Layton, were probably in their seventies. They came to meet our family as soon as we moved in and quickly befriended me, almost adopting me as a grandchild. By that time, Sister Layton had been blind for about twelve years,
but that did not stop her from making cookies and Kool-Aid for me almost every afternoon and telling me Bible stories while I snacked.
The first summer we lived in Junction City, Brother and Sister Layton took me to Vacation Bible School at their church, and I had a great time being with other children, playing, and learning about God. They also took me to church every Sunday and every Wednesday night. I had no idea then what a crucial time that was for me: the Laytons were laying a foundation that would sustain me for the rest of my life, as they helped me learn basic biblical principles, characters, and stories. They made it possible for me to have a meaningful connection with God and church, and I was the only person in my family who had any kind of spiritual relationship at all at that point. I look back now and realize that my mom has always had a tender heart for God, but during those years she was simply doing her best to survive. Since Dad would not go to church, she did not go either.
My dad has always had a great personality, and people in Junction City loved him because of it. But they also knew he was a drunk, and his reputation suffered. He held his job at the school for about three years, then quit when he realized he was about to be fired because of the way he was living. I do not know exactly what all was going on at that time, but I do remember asking him if he would take me hunting and he said, “No.” When I wanted to know why, he told me he might have to take off running from the game warden. He meant it. He was doing some illegal things in his outdoor activities, but I did not understand that at the time.
Though I could not have articulated it, I did perceive that all he really wanted to do was hunt, fish, and drink and that having a family was a drain on his lifestyle. It was not a happy time.
NO PLACE TO RAISE A FAMILY
When Dad quit his job at the school, we had to move. He found work managing a bar outside Junction City, and we lived in a trailer next to the bar. This decision made a big statement to his Christian parents and siblings that he was committed to his lifestyle of drinking. By that time, Willie had come along, so all five of us—two parents, three-year-old Jase, newborn Willie, and me—lived in a one-bedroom trailer with a tiny living area and a kitchen so small we could hardly turn around in it.
Dad got into a serious altercation, a real fracas, complete with ambulances and police cars, which resulted in his taking off into the woods running from the law.
Once we moved from the school property, the Laytons no longer came to pick me up for church. Thankfully, another lady from their church lived close to us and developed an interest in me. She started taking me to church, so I never lost my connection there, and I will always be grateful for that.
Within a year, we were able to expand our home to a fourteen-by-seventy-foot trailer, which made our living conditions more comfortable. Dad made good money at the bar, but the environment was not positive for our family. Mom never did like having
us boys exposed to the things we saw around the bar—some very bad things—but she went along with it because the job provided a measure of financial security, and she did not know what else Dad could do because of his drinking.
After running the bar for a couple of years, Dad got into a fight with the owners. It was a serious altercation, a real fracas, complete with ambulances and police cars, which resulted in his taking off into the woods running from the law. That left my mom alone with three young boys. She ended up having to move quickly, taking us and basically just our clothes with her. Because the bar owners insisted she leave the state immediately, she had to leave her washing machine, dryer, and many of her mementos and special things in a storage shed. Mom and Dad had saved some money by that time, but she used it to pay off the bar owners and get us out of Arkansas. Our lives were about to get a lot worse.