Northwest Arkansas Times: June 21, 2009
A dad in waiting: Eldest son of Duggar clan prepares for fatherhood
Perhaps the best analogy of Josh and Anna Duggar’s life rests outside the doors of the used car dealership in Springdale. Near one of the city’s busiest intersections at Thompson Street and Robinson Avenue, an assortment of vehicles sit in front of a small house-like structure that serves as an office.
Some are sleep sports cars. Others are modest family sedan like the white 2001 Honda Accord. That one’s not for sale, though because it’s the primary mode of transportation of a couple who could lay claim as one of the most famous soon-to-be parents in the country – if not the world – as two of the cast of characters in the incredibly popular reality show on The Learning Channel, “18 Kids and Counting.” The show chronicles the lives of Tontitown residents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 18 children.
Now America is bracing for the latest branches of the Duggar tree after it was announced in February that Anna was pregnant, a process well-documented by both the television show and a series of “webisodes” on TLC’s Web site. Currently in her 22nd week of the pregnancy, Anna is due in October, while her husband could be considered one of the more well-known fathers-to-be on today’s edition of Father’s Day.
‘We’re real people’
Josh, the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, has a thing for driving Corvettes and BMWs. It’s an itch he’s able to scratch by taking one of the cars from the lot for an occasional date night with Anna. For the most part, though, he can be found in his Honda when he’s not being asked to participate in an impromptu photo opportunity.
And so the newlyweds – they were married in September – find themselves in a constant balancing act between celebrity and normalcy, of being anchored by their conservative Christian roots while receiving bits and pieces of rock star treatment. One day they are on national television. The next they are sitting in their dealership’s office on a slow Thursday afternoon.
“I think when you’re in the national, international spotlight sometimes, people don’t feel like you can really relate, but we’re just normal people,” Josh would later say. “We live here like everybody else.”
Sort of. Everybody else does not have a camera crew follow them around for a couple hours a day for up to four days a week. Or have McDonald’s workers in a starry-eyed frenzy when they come by the drive-through line. Still they are thankful for the stage which they have been given, which they consider as a dorm of ministry to bring to light fundamental family principles that might be missing in the households who watch the show – based in part by the flood of e-mails they receive.
“When we’re in New York City, you have a limousine, you have nice hotels and all that kind of stuff, and it’s nice,” Josh said. “You can enjoy that, but, really, you realize that life is not made up of fame and fortune. Life is made up of people and relationships and that’s what matters.
“It’s just kind of odd, but at the same time, and I tell people, we’re real people. We live our life just like anybody else, and I think the fame a lot of time that surrounds people, they let it go to their head and say, ‘We’re some famous person.’ My parents have always encouraged us, ‘Being young and on television, don’t let it go to your head. God has placed you there for a certain time, and you have to be able to accept that for what it is, so be thankful for the opportunity you have.’”
On Monday, Josh and Anna were back in New York to learn the baby’s gender along with the rest of the world live on NBC’s “TODAY” show a little after 8 a.m. as his family stood by via satellite for an instant reaction.
“I’m feeling great, and we’ve been able to feel the baby move and kick, so that’s been a lot of fun,” Anna replied after being asked by interviewer Meredith Viera how she was feeling.
A few more questions later, it was time to cut into a giant cake that would reveal the gender based on if it had pink or blue colored filling.
“You know I have had this feeling this whole time it’s going to be a girl, so now I’m for sure it’s a boy,” Josh said.
“I think it’s a boy, but a girl would be great,” Anna added.
Then came a slice of a corner courtesy of Josh with a drum roll in the background.
Pink and white filling.
“So now, I think, we’ve talk about naming themes. We’re talking about ‘M,’ so I think we’re down the right road for Meredith,” Josh said to Viera.
“Don’t pull my leg here,” Viera replied. “You know I’ve been your biggest fan. Is it going to be Meredith? Make the announcement right now.”
No such luck. The interview closes with one of the questions they’re asked the most, the one about them possibly trying to equal or surpass the bounty of Jim Bob and Michelle.
“No, we would be happy with two or three, and I think children are a blessing. When you raise them right, I think they can be a great blessing,” Josh replied. “We’re just thankful for the one God has given us, and we’ll take them one at a time.”
Like father, like son
Two days before heading to New York, Josh and Anna Duggar, who rent a home in Fayetteville, played the role of young entrepreneurs at their Springdale dealership, a business Josh started with his brother, John-David two years ago. In the quaint office area, they work as a team, answering the phone, sifting through e-mails and meeting with prospective clients.
They admitted a lot of people feign interest in doing business just to talk or meet them. Josh estimated that only two to three sales could be credited to their celebrity status. Inside the modest building, only a few signs of their other life can be found.
Among them is a Duggar family portrait taken when Josh was 18 with a few siblings yet to be born. Then there’s a spiraling photo display case containing snapshots of their very much publicized wedding that took place in Hilliard, Fla., located north of Jacksonville.
Before Josh could surprise Anna by flying into Jacksonville to propose on her 20th birthday, he had to build up his used car business just like his father did. At one point, Jim Bob Duggar was working at a now-defunct grocery store in Fayetteville before he received word from his wife, Michelle, that she was pregnant with Josh. So the 21-year-old, who had purchased his first care at age 14, decided to open a used care dealership on Thompson Street in Springdale.
“I wanted a business that we could work at together as a family,” said Jim Bob Duggar, who also began a towing business and picked up his real estate license around the same time. “It was a big transition going from just my wife and I to having our first child, and that was about four years into our marriage.”
Jim Bob Duggar went on to operate two dealerships in the Springdale area for 13 years before jumping full time into politics in 1999 when he became a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives until 2002 before losing the Republican primary in the race for the United States Senate to Tim Hutchinson.
All was not lost, though. An Associated Press photo of the Duggar family casting their ballot on voting day began appearing in publications across the country, including The New York Times. Then those publications started running stories on the growing family, which got the attention of the producers of the Discovery Health Channel. The channel eventually aired “14 Children and Pregnant Again” in 2003, which followed the birth of he 15th child, Jackson.
Josh was 16 when the first documentary came out, having just finished up his home-schooled secondary courses. One of those who watched was Anna, the fifth of eight children, who were home-schooled at their home in Interlachen, Fla., a small town near Gainesville. The families had known of each other through a mutual friend but never met each other until the annual Advanced Training Institute International conference in Big Sandy, Texas, in May 2006.
“It was love at first sight. I was just like ‘Wow.’ I don’t know. I just felt like, ‘This is the girl you’re going to marry.’ I didn’t really know how to say it, and I wasn’t thinking ‘This is the girl you are going to date.’ It was ‘This is the one you’re going to marry,’” said Josh Duggar, who was 18 at the time, while Anna was 17.
After their families took turns visiting each other and Josh spent a week with Anna’s older brother, Daniel Keller, working at anger resolution seminars at a correctional institution in central Florida, the eldest Duggar asked Anna’s father if he could court his daughter.
In what might be hard for many teenagers or 20-some-things to fathom, Josh and Anna established boundaries in their relationship in its early stages – completely on their own – to strengthen their emotional connection before investing in a physical one. In fact, their first kiss happened on their wedding day.
“The way I look at it is it’s like a Christmas gift,” Josh said of the first kiss. “You look forward to it so much, and so many people open up and play with it before Christmas comes around – and not to say you can’t have fun with it and you can’t enjoy it – but when Christmas around it’s another thing. If you’ve already experience it, it’s not that special. Waiting for that day just made it all that much more.”
“There was a lot of anticipation on the wedding day than a lot of people, they don’t have,” Anna added. “It made our wedding day a lot more special.”
The next generation
Now the duo find themselves in a pair of more traditional shoes, those of young newlyweds awaiting their first child. Although their parents have collectively gone through this process 26 times, this is all new territory for them – even though Josh has a sister, Jordyn-Grace, who is a little more than 6 months old.
“Instead of being an older brother and knowing that a little one is going to look up to you, it’s almost like they’re looking up to you and it’s your responsibility as well,” Josh said.
“The choices that we make for our child are really going to affect [her] and that’s it. We’re the ones that are responsible. That’s a sobering though. It’s not really scary. It’s just kind of exciting, in a way, to look forward to it.”
His father and mother have expounded numerous tidbits of advice on the TLC Web site and other outlets about parenting, but the advice Jim Bob would give to his son – and all new fathers – can really be boiled down to a sentence: “Realize that your children are going to do more of what you do than what you say, and so you’ve got to not only tell then what to do, but you’ve got to set the example yourself with your life.”
Although Josh and Anna Duggar enjoy their time as household names, they realize that at some point the spotlight will turn off.
“Right now, it’s a window of time that we’re in the public eye, and we may be there for a long time or we may not,” Josh said. “We’re going to maximize the use of the platform that we have when we have it and user it in a positive way, not to build ourselves up but to be able to encourage people.”
As long as America is interested.
“Cameras won’t follow us for the rest of our lives,” Anna said. “Once we’re in a nursing home, they won’t be there.