From the Shadow to the Spotlight
When it comes to my Uncle Si, if you know him, you love him.
As one of the most popular Duckmen, not only is Si a wellspring of silliness and storytelling, but also a compassionate and caring servant of Jesus Christ. Often when trying to explain my family members, I look to the Scriptures for object lessons and analogies; Si was no exception. I found a wealth of comparison between my Dad and my Uncle Si and the Apostle brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. It never ceases to amaze me how a book written so long ago can so vibrantly reflect relationships, characteristics, and personalities in my own family members.
The Bible doesn’t have much to say about Andrew, which is saying something. While we know many details of Simon Peter’s life, Andrew almost disappears from Biblical history after the death of Jesus. As two of the Twelve Disciples, both Simon Peter and Andrew were big deals, but it seems that Andrew was constantly in Peter’s shadow—a lot like my Dad and Si.
The relationship between my Dad and Si has always been unique. As my Dad describes their childhood, it was like they were living in the 1850’s rather than the 1950’s. Deciding to raise his family the way he was raised, grandpa bought land outside of town where they could live free from the trappings of society. They grew up with no running water, no indoor plumbing, and no air conditioning. Consequently, as the youngest boy, Si always got the short end of the stick when it came to bathing, if you know what I mean. With four older siblings and a system of bathing in birth order, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!” became a real problem! Come to think of it, that may be why he embraced the dirt!
Growing up in the country was hard work, but it was a slow, peaceful life that uniquely prepared our family for Duck Commander. Every day consisted of chores, hunting, and fishing. Being the youngest boy, Si looked up to his brothers, and you would never find Dad without his little shadow. Even from young ages, the family knew that Dad and Si had a talent for hunting and fishing, but Dad had that mountain man gene; he thrived on the rugged outdoor life. Being his shadow, Si learned how to hunt and fish with one of the best.
As they got older, Si and Dad were inseparable. Even when Dad and Mom started dating, Si was always the third wheel and the not-so-reluctant chaperone on all their dates. Even now, fifty years later, Si is always around, always willing to lend a helping hand. When the time came for Si to go to college, it was only natural that he would join his three older brothers at Louisiana Tech. It was there, though, that Si started to go spiritually south. When Si entered university, he started finding out what it meant to live away from home; he rarely attended class and started partying regularly.
It took one semester for Si to find out that the college life wasn’t for him. Even though he did pretty well on his finals, he decided not to return to college. Not long after, he received a draft letter from the US Army and was sent to Vietnam. Upon arrival in Vietnam in October 1968, he was stationed in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta. Bunking in a converted hotel, he was in the thick of the horrors of war.
Even though he did not see major combat, the hard part of the war for Si was the fraternity of grief that surrounded the barracks. While drinking heavily in Vietnam, he vowed that he would quit immediately upon arrival at home. He kept this promise, and as soon as he returned home, he turned his life around and started to get his life right.
After leaving Vietnam in October 1969, Si was transferred to Fort Devens in Massachusetts where he worked in medical supply and began a long military career as an office worker. It was there where he met his wife, Christine Raney, one month after arrival. As a kid, I remember when he first brought her to a family get-together; poor lady met all of us at once. That was a rude awakening, but quite a fitting welcome to the Robertson family!
After several years of assignments around the US and overseas, Si retired from the military and moved his growing family back to Louisiana to help with Duck Commander.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “’We have found the Messiah.’ And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:40-42)
Si was never in the forefront of our family fame. From the beginning, when we were filming duck hunting videos, Si always tried to avoid the camera. He was like the Warner Bros. frog, singing and cutting up when the camera was off, but as soon as it turned on him, he faded into the background and would hardly say a word. We wanted the world to meet our crazy Uncle Si, so we started hiding cameras in the blind.
An interesting correlation to the Apostle brothers, Andrew was a behind-the-scenes type of guy. In John 1, we find that Andrew was already a fervent disciple of John the Baptist, but when John baptized Jesus, he immediately followed Christ, because he recognized the Savior. Many had to be asked to follow Jesus, but Andrew dove right in.
The interesting part of the story comes when Andrew realized he had found the Savior and immediately ran to tell his brother. Andrew knew that he had to get his brother to Jesus; similarly for our Southern Brothers, once Si got his life right and on track with God, he had to make sure that his brother, my dad, was also on the same path. My dad had fallen away from the Lord and gotten into a rough life, but Si never gave up on him. Once my dad was converted and became on fire for the Lord, the brothers were inseparable in a mutual pursuit of godliness.
Now that the two of them are in the boat together, serving and honoring God, nothing can stop them.
Si has been in the family business for twenty years and has become one of our top reed makers. Reed making is the hardest and most meticulous job in the company. Before we had automation, we did it all by hand and it took forever. Each reed had to be drilled, riveted, and hammered all by hand. Being industry leaders, we have developed amazing automation and simplified the process as much as possible, but it is still the most technical part of the duck call. As the original reed man, I know it is tedious and mundane labor.
In 1999, when Si joined the business after twenty-five years as a desk man for the Army, he was relegated to making the reeds, because I had already begun to pursue the ministry and no one else wanted to do it. Surprisingly, it was Si’s dream job! To use his words, he “got to sit on his behind all day,” making reeds. What we all dreaded, he saw as a dream job.
In the beginning, neither Si nor his work in Duck Commander was flashy or exciting, but he was always the faithful, shadow guy in the back, smoking Winstons and making reeds. Today, Si is one of the most loved, most well-known characters on Duck Dynasty, and if you ask children about their favorite Duckman, chances are they will start to gush about Uncle Si.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
Si is very solid and always has been. One of the things I love about Si is his steadfast, unmovable foundation of family first, fame second. Although he is not a trained speaker, when he and I do appearances together, he has developed into a dynamic, inspiring leader. One of the popular questions asked at many speaking engagements is how we as a family maintain our footing on the slippery slope of fame. His answer is always the same.
He recalls a moment before we began the journey of Duck Dynasty. Spending much time in prayer and discussion, we had all gotten together as a family to discuss the possibility of the show. My wife, Lisa, and I were there, even though we had decided that we would continue our pastoral ministry and be the spiritual beacon for the family. All we knew was that we did not want to be just another reality TV family; we wanted to maintain our integrity. We had seen what fame had done to several families, and we didn’t want it to happen to us.
Si recounts that day as the moment when we made our decision to be family first in the face of fame. I had given a “Remember the Alamo” charge about maintaining our family unity on both the days when we were attacking the fort and on the days when we were inside defending against attack. Si still uses it as a memory point.
Above all, our family views Duck Commander and Duck Dynasty as a platform for the real work, the work of the Kingdom. Si is a vibrant character, but he is also a tireless witness of the love of Christ. He always has time for one more interview, one more engagement, or one more person. He views his fame as the crazy uncle as a tool to be used to spread the Good News. In truth, our marketplace ministry is our lives.
Everyone knows Dad. He is a dynamic speaker who is not afraid to speak about the difficult subjects. He is a huge deal, but Si has always been best at the smaller level—the one kid that needs a pick-me-up. Everything in his life has led to these moments: his military career, his work with Duck Commander, his appearance on Duck Dynasty. It has all led to the place where he can sit and minister to individuals.
Si’s natural ability to be quiet and assemble the reeds has blossomed into an individual, one-on-one ministry with people across the country. There is so much more to Si than the crazy uncle you see on TV. He is always willing to stay after a speaking engagement to speak with that one family who has a spiritual need, that one child who desperately wanted to meet him, or that one man that needs encouragement and prayer. He is selfless and he puts others first.
While Simon Peter was known to be the one to speak to thousands, Andrew quietly followed Jesus and brought others to Him. Andrew is remembered for his humility. After the New Testament, he wound up preaching in the Northern Black Sea area. It is theorized that he preached and saw many converts in the region—converts that became ancestors to the Anglo Saxons and Scotts. The flag of Scotland is adorned with St. Andrew’s cross in reverence to his martyr’s death upon a cross. An entire nation honors his steadfast humility.
Personally, I see Si in Andrew. Both the Apostle Andrew and Si were in the shadows for most of their ministries and lives, behind brothers who became cultural and spiritual icons, but in the later part of their stories, they are their own big deals, equally as known and loved by the world. They made their own marks and made their own ways.
My Uncle Si is a remarkable man. He is a humble servant, a wise Christian, and an incredible role model. And these days, to the delight of our faithful fans, unlike the Warner Bros. frog, when he turns on the charm, the camera is on!