Allen Hickman vividly remembers the moment he found out he was going to be a first-time father. A center for the Mississippi College Choctaws, Allen was sweating it out at a grueling practice when he spotted his young wife, Amy, walking toward the field.
“The coach was screaming and yelling, really giving it to us, when I saw Amy coming over the hill,” Hickman recalls. “She stopped at the top and gave me a big smile and a thumbs up. I started laughing and the coach went ballistic. He was up in my face, yelling, ‘What, Hickman? You think this is funny?’ I just grinned and said, ‘Hey Coach, I’m gonna be a daddy!’”
Over the next 17 years, Amy would give her husband the big thumbs up not once more, not twice more, not even thrice more, but nine more times. Allen and Amy are the proud parents of 10 sons – Micah (22), Caleb (20), Jacob (19), Jonathan (17), Benjamin (16), Samuel (14), Josiah (12), Elisha (10), Isaac (7), and Nathan (5). Twenty-three years after that day at football practice, Allen and Amy Hickman are raising a family that’s just one player short of a football team.
Allen Hickman ’88 is the senior pastor at Resurrection Life Worship Center, a non-denominational church in Picayune, Mississippi. Amy Hickman ’88 is a chauffeur, counselor, laundress, chef, economist, teacher, and prayer warrior – in other words, a stay-at-home mom. The Hickmans’ 10 sons span every stage from kindergarten to college.
Allen and Amy never planned to have such a large family. When they were engaged, Allen would often tease his fiancée by saying he was planning to have at least six children.
“I never joked back about that,” Amy says. “At that time, I was 4-foot-11 and weighed 95 pounds. I told him, ‘There will never be six kids coming out of this body.’”
When their second son, Caleb, was born, Allen and Amy thought their family was complete. Then Amy had a divinely inspired change of heart.
“The Lord put it in my heart that I was supposed to have a lot of kids and have them close together,” Amy says. “But my definition of ‘a lot’ was maybe five. I never, never dreamed we’d have 10.”
But the babies kept coming, including, Allen says, “five that we were actively trying to prevent. People felt free to say some really pointed things to us.”
Allen’s response was to begin one of his Sunday sermons with this message from the pulpit: “Yes, Amy is pregnant again. And yes, we do know what causes that.”
The Hickmans could only conclude that God wanted them to have a large family. And while they clearly adore each and every one of their boys, they candidly admit that it hasn’t always been easy.
"I've always heard the youngest child in most families gets spoiled, but that's not true in our family. I think mom and dad treat Nathan the same as they treated us older boys. Of course, if he'd been a girl, we'd probably be having an entirely different conversation."
-Caleb Hickman, Son #2
“I wish I could honestly say that every time I found out I was pregnant, my reaction was, ‘Oh, thank you, God,’ but that wouldn’t be true,” Amy says. “Instead, I was saying, ‘God, we’ve already got so many. And don’t You know we’re not millionaires?’ After about number six, I was actually embarrassed to go back to the doctor. But God was looking out for us. He directed me to a doctor named Dr. Care, and that name was perfect for him. Dr. Care kept telling me that God was gifting us with these babies, and that God would take care of us, too.”
While God has indeed taken care of the family, Allen and Amy have also done their part; raising 10 children means adjusting to a way of life that most people can’t imagine. The Hickmans have converted two rooms in their four-bedroom house into additional sleeping areas, but every child still has at least one “roommate.”
The family car is a well-used, 15-passenger van. Amy is an expert on shopping sales, and for sons two through 10, hand-me-downs are a wardrobe staple. The Hickmans rarely go out to dinner, instead dining on spaghetti, casseroles, and other dishes that allow Amy to stretch their $1,500 per month grocery bill to the breaking point. When the boys bring friends home for dinner, they caution them with a smile to, “Get what you want to eat the first time around ‘cause there won’t be a second chance.’ The Hickmans describe the occasional dinner out at Chili’s as “an investment.”
“On really special occasions, we get to order sweet tea,” Amy says.
“I can save $25 if we all drink water,” Allen explains with a shrug.
But while the Hickmans may not have a lot of cash on hand, they also have very little debt. The family maintains a simple lifestyle that revolves primarily around school and church activities and the boys’ many sports teams. The Hickmans’ sons have grown up placing more value on the things money can’t buy than on having the latest electronic gadgets or fashions.
Still, Allen Hickman confesses to having “fits of realization,” moments when he realizes all over again that he is responsible for supporting 12 people, and that sometimes, he doesn’t see how he and Amy can do it. Those are the moments when God steps in. On numerous occasions, the Hickmans have been blessed with unexpected funds, which usually arrive in the eleventh hour. Members of their community have provided out-of-the-blue gifts ranging from used cars for the older boys to plane tickets for a family vacation, and their orthodontist gave one son a free set of braces – his version of a frequent flier discount.
“God has been so faithful,” Allen says. “If He took care of one million people in the wilderness, He can certainly take care of this family.”
The biggest challenge the Hickmans face isn’t finding enough money, but finding enough time.
“If you want to do parenting right and raise men of good character, you have to use the gift of your influence,” Amy says. “Our biggest challenge has been reaching that level of involvement with each of the boys, pouring that much of ourselves into all 10 of them when each one is in a different stage of life. It’s a constant challenge to make them all feel loved and special and to make sure no one ever feels left out.”
The Hickmans have indeed poured themselves into their children, from periodically taking each boy on special excursions with mom or dad to attending sporting events in shifts to make sure every boy had someone cheering at every game. Evenings at the Hickman home include an organized family time, which finds Allen reading aloud from the Bible and each son sharing something for which he is thankful. Family time ends when Allen counts down to the shared family vision, which is recited in unison: “We pray that we may be a sweet aroma to Your nose, a joy to Your eyes, and in all things bring glory to Your name.”
According to those who would know best – their sons – Allen and Amy have done an outstanding job.
“I never felt neglected or that I was getting the short end of the rope,” oldest son Micah, a student at Delta State University, says. “Sometimes I wondered what it might be like if I had two or three brothers instead of nine, but I never wanted to be an only child. I had friends who didn’t have brothers and they usually ended up at our house, where there was always someone to play with or a kid to pick on. We have a bond as a family that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
"Our father is the same man at home as he is in the pulpit. He's not perfect, but if he makes a mistake he always says he was wrong and apologizes. I've learned more from that example than I would have learned if he were perfect."
-Jacob Hickman, Son #3
“Mom and Dad did a great job of raising each and every one of us,” number two son, Caleb, agrees. “We’re all well-behaved. Out of the 10 of us, there aren’t any brats or whiners in the bunch.”
“It’s been a lot of work, and honestly, sometimes I don’t know how we’ve done it,” Allen says. “It’s the Lord, by far. He gave us an understanding of what we’d need to do and an understanding of discipline. We couldn’t have done it if they hadn’t been good boys, but then again, ‘good’ doesn’t just happen.”
“As the oldest, I got a lot of whippings, but Dad seems to have mellowed a little,” Micah says with a smile. “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be the youngest. I think I might be able to get away with a little more.”
The 10 boys themselves are close friends, attending one another’s sporting events and offering a reliable sounding board when one of them is facing a tough issue. There is no jealousy among the boys, although Micah has been known to joke that his inheritance is getting smaller with every brother. The boys also learned at an early age to serve others.
“I’m 20 years old and single,” Caleb says, “and I’ve already changed more diapers than most men will in their lifetime.”
While many fathers today feel pressure to be good role models, Allen Hickman sees fathering his 10 sons as an incredible opportunity.
“I look at it as a privilege to pass on the good stuff,” Allen says. “I know my sons are watching me. I can look at that in a negative way and say, ‘Wow, I’m under so much pressure,’ or I can look at it and say, “Wow, I get to affect the future.’ The world needs good Christian men of integrity and honor. I do the best I can, trust the Lord, and remember that love covers a multitude of sins.”
Third son Jacob jokingly points out that the Hickmans are just two men shy of the disciples, but Allen and Amy believe their family is complete, primarily because the five years since Nathan’s birth is the longest they’ve gone without having another son. When asked what the words “empty nest” mean to them, Allen replies, “I don’t think we’re ever going to have it.” The Hickmans are considering building another house, and Amy has already suggested they build one large enough to accommodate not only their 10 boys, but also their future daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
“I’ve told her, Baby, they have that already, and it’s called a hotel,” Allen says. “Besides, when it comes to babysitting, I’ve already told the boys I’m sending their rug rats home.”
He pauses then adds with a smile, “Unless one of them has a little girl. I might just have to keep that one.”