“A family that prays together, stays together” is the motto by which gospel-jazz artist and motivational speaker Ben Tankard lives by — and these words are put into practice on his reality TV show Thicker than Water.
Tankard and his family, who are self-dubbed the “black Brady Bunch,” have appeared on Bravo every Sunday night since the show’s premiere in October and have lured in viewers with their big personalities, lavish lifestyles and entertaining candid conversations.
But at its core, the family’s foundation is built on their strong belief in Christianity. Tankard and his family rely on their faith to carry them through the trials they face and credit their religious devotion for the success they have, and continue to earn.
Tankard and his wife, Jewel, have spent most of their lives raising their children through great discipline and lessons that are rooted in scripture. Altogether, the couple has six children: Benji, Brittney, Brooklyn Cyrene, Diamond and Shanira – each of whom are now adults and all lived under the same roof.
“It’s a Brady bunch of grown juveniles, they’re grown but not all are gone,” Tankard joked to theGrio. “But it’s fun. The shows airs some of our family issues and drama on raising a houseful of children, who are now all adults.”
Many of the hot-button issues that are raised on the show reflect common banter that takes place in most households. For Ben and Jewel, almost all of the arguments that ignite teach them new lessons in parenting as they learn to adjust and accept the reality of a constantly growing family.
“In the real world, child rearing only begins at 18,” Tankard said. “We have a lot of family meetings and we talk about a lot of things, though doing the show brought us together. It’s forced us to address things we normally sweep under the rug.”
Along with their big personalities, the Tankards are also known for their lavish lifestyles. With a solidified millionaire status, the Tankards have had the luxury of participating and purchasing some of the finer things in life.
And while some have found critique in not being able to align the Tankards’ wealth with their religious beliefs, Ben says he is not concerned for the Bible itself encourages all men and women to be rich.
“Anytime you go against the grain you get criticized and it’s usually because people don’t know you but the bible doesn’t say don’t be rich, but it says those who are [rich] should do good,” he said.
Ben has kept his word and says that he and his family have dedicated their lives to helping others. The Tankards support over 20 different charities – from feeding the hungry to handing out toys to totts, Ben says 30 percent of his current income is given to charitable causes.
“My goal is to live off 10-20 percent of my income and give 80 percent to charity,” he said. “I know what it’s like not to have and I always give money.”
But Ben’s life has not always been filled with financial comfortability — instead, it reflects a true rags-to-riches story.
“I was raised poor, my parents were on public assistance and we grew up eating peanut butter and powered eggs,” Ben said. “I would shovel chicken manure off a chicken farm down in Florida, we were migrant farmers.”
Ben says he was 6’6 by the sixth grade and his parents saw this as great opportunity for him play basketball and potentially enter the NBA.
“They told me ‘you’re black, you’re tall, we’re poor, play ball,” he said. “And I did because I thought it would give me an opportunity to make money and help my family.”
Ben soon began training and was eventually picked up in the minor league. He was even given the opportunity to workout with the Portland Trailblazers. Unfortunately, he injured himself during minor league camp, which caused him to retreat as he turned to God for guidance.
“Now I have no education and a messed-up knee and so I went to church and was depressed and I gave my heart to God,” he said. “The very same night I found out God had a plan for me, I sat in front of the piano and started playing, that’s when it came out.”
What Ben is referring to was the night he discovered his musical talent – a night that changed his life and a talent that went on to produce over 15 gold and 6 platinum records.
His success continued to rise and Ben is now known as the Godfather of GospelJazz music – but to him, his priorities lay in being a great father to his six children and a loving husband to his wife.
For now, Ben is busy working on his new self-help book A Full Tank Life. He also spends his time giving motivational speeches to various sports teams in the NBA as he continues to be a frequent volunteer pastor of his church. Along with these ventures, Ben is also launching his “Full Tank” big and tall clothing line.
But with the Christmas holidays approaching, what he’s looking forward to most is spending time with his family and getting in the kitchen to bake one of the best turkeys known to man, he says.
“I am top 10 in the world in turkey cooking and I’ve got this 36-hour turkey that I’m going to bake at 110 degrees,” Ben said. “It’s going to be a ‘full tank turkey.’”
You can catch the Tankard family on Thicker than Water, only on Bravo. It airs Sundays at 9/8c.
Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works