“Daddy, we know you don't have the job anymore, you don't have to buy ice cream for both of us. Just buy one and we'll share.”
Former Petrotrin instrumentation and controls specialist and father of two, Kevin “Chef” Williams told Sunday Guardian that the words of his nine-year-old daughter, Trin'elle on a trip to a mall kindled sadness, but more so, a sense of pride. It was the pride of a father who received confirmation that he was doing something right.
Just over one year before the pandemic hit, Williams and his family of four were already making some lifestyle adjustments. Finding himself home after having worked for 15 years at the state-owned oil company that was shut down in 2018 was not as devastating to Williams as it was to some of his co-workers, however. The dad said he was fortunate enough to have had life skills and experiences on which he could draw to keep his family afloat.
Being home also gave him the opportunity to bond even more with his daughters who showed great understanding during their father's challenging time. Williams dug deep, summoning his parents' teachings and years of grounding as a Cub Scout, Scout leader and community representative to offer consolation and support where he could.
“Being the main breadwinner and then having lost my job, a lot of things had to be re-prioritised. It was a bit of a blow to the family, but thankfully I have a supportive wife who held it down,” Williams reflected.
“I knew I had other skills I could depend on. I do electrical, plumbing and camera installation, tiling and more, but I was looking at my co-workers. When you are employed and have a mortgage and car payments and then the rug is pulled from under your feet and the bank is calling...
“I was thinking more about others who were in a worse position—the casual workers who didn't get a big paycheque to go home, those who are heavily in debt. Some just walked into the bank and returned their car keys before the bank came looking for them. It was a real traumatic time for me to see what was happening around me.”
As job loss in one industry turned to nationwide unemployment with the onset of the pandemic, Williams sympathised, empathised and advised men around him, relying more and more on his training in peer counselling and on his roots to be a “calm voice” in the whirlwind.
His father, Steve, had worked in the oilfields before him and always had a collected, level-headed approach, which Williams said he also embraced. From his mother, Gladys, a former school teacher who currently lectures in life skills and corporate training, he inherited an optimistic outlook on life.
In the quiet southwest town of La Brea, the name “Chef” or “Ms Williams' son” evokes a positive response. He has long been a mover and shaker in the community. From the age of seven as a Cub Scout and later, Scout in the First La Brea Scout troop under then district commissioner, Inez Chandler, Williams remembered developing the discipline and leadership qualities that would set him on a path of assisting and empowering others. Attaining the President's Medal (gold) from former president Noor Hassanali for excellence in reading, athletics and science, among other areas in Scouting, further fuelled the youngster's passion to contribute. So too did Anglican priest, Father John Rohim, another of his mentors who also encouraged many other youths, Williams said.
Williams made patrol leader at sea scouts and went on to be a troop leader of his former troop after completing a degree in Computer Information Systems and an associated degree in Business Management at Caribbean Union College (CUC).
“It (Scouts) was a very vibrant movement in La Brea, a positive space for boys, men to express themselves; to run, play, learn, be productive and do community service etc. I never moved away from that.”
His yearning to give back has ensured Williams' involvement in social groups and NGOs like the La Brea Internationals charity group whose most recent initiatives included presenting tablets to a primary school in the area last September, distributing hampers at Christmas and partnering with nearby businesses to do care packages, outfits, make-up and hair, and a tea party for residents of the Helena Charles Home for Senior Citizens.
He is also a member of the League of Sophisticated Gentlemen of T&T (Los Gents TT), started by one of his friends, Aaron Nichols, who had the vision to create a group geared towards holistic development of men. Their work has included a youth mentorship programme for a few male CXC students who would also receive assistance to attend graduation from sponsors, TT RideShare, Ecliff Elie and King's Lounge Barber Spa, Madison Avenue Designs and F1 Media House Limited..
Between 2015 and 2020, Los Gents TT partnered with the then Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs to develop the Mpower programme and the M Lounge talks—a safe space for men to express themselves. Here, male youths would benefit from talks, life skills training, academics and internships and mentorships from the likes of sailor and Olympian, Andrew Lewis, former Christian radio personality and radio programme manager, Jamie Thomas, designer, Ecliff Elie and music group, Freetown Collective etc. Williams recalled a particularly powerful session held in San Fernando in 2020 on fatherhood which revealed the pain that some men in T&T quietly endure.
“It was really touching because, at one point, the question was asked: 'Which of you don't have your father around?' When I saw how many hands went up, I was amazed. The host then asked: 'What message do you have for your father if you were to see him right now?' It was heart-wrenching...simple questions like 'what did I do wrong?', 'Why you not here with us?', 'When can I see you?'
“And to see these young men looking tough on the outside, but when they had to speak about these issues they were basically breaking down in tears...” Williams lamented.
Pointing to his participation in a talk on stay-at-home dads held by Los Gents TT in their “Sip and Chat” season two podcast, Williams said he had no problem being “very open” about his situation.
“It was nothing shameful for me; the opportunity to drop the girls to school every day, pick them up, when you go in you hear: 'Daddy!' They so happy they want all their friends to see and meet their daddy. It gave me more time with them, so it was a blessing in a sense.”
Bonding has also meant stepping in and combing the girls' hair. With their mother abroad on vacation for three weeks in 2018, Williams went to work, sorting out his daughters' hairdos.
“It was just the girls and dad, so I couldn't let them go out of the house looking anyhow. It was a joy of course. I vaguely remember plaiting my mum's hair when I was small, so I knew a few things.”
Happy days spent vacationing with grandparents among lots of cousins had exposed him to activities of girls including hopscotch, skip/jump rope and plaiting hair.
“You pick up a little skill here and there. I can still do a little plait and their hair is natural, so you put a nice little part, some nice little buns. But now that they are bigger, Daddy can't comb their hair again,” he joked.
What his daughters love
Hairstyles aside, the girls said they were happy to spend time with their father. Trin'elle enjoys when he makes them “breakfast and tea.”
“I really like when Daddy serenades us to wake us up on mornings and I like when we go on walks. It really lightens my mood,” shared Trin-Kara to the laughter of all three, their fun and playful interaction on display even during this interview.
Recalling the birth of his firstborn with ease, Williams said he had insisted on being a present father “from day one.”
“Trin-Kara was born a month pre-mature. It was a very tense time rushing to give blood etc. My wife's emergency surgery (C-section) was successful, thank God and they took me to the Neo-natal ward and I saw this cute bundle of joy in the incubator,” he laughed.
“I melted. I literally melted. I almost felt my knees give way. It was like: wow! This is my seed? God is so awesome. They took her out and I was able to hold her and I put my finger by her hand and she held it and squeezed it. It was an amazing, amazing experience. I was overwhelmed.”
The proud dad had to be involved immediately, feeding, changing and generally caring for the baby while his wife recovered. When Trin'elle came along, he had a similar routine since his wife again underwent a C-section.
A diehard patriot, Williams gave his daughters names which would let people know exactly where they were born.
Their parents have involved the girls in charity work, Brownies, ballet, drama club, art classes and sports. Usually, their routine is also packed with know-your-country tours to places like Bamboo Cathedral and beaches, as well as hikes.
“...because you want them to be as patriotic as they can, so wherever they may land in their later lives, they would be a great representation of what Trinidad and Tobago can produce,” Williams informed.
Inspired by their cousin, Young Devvyn who is a rapper in the US, the girls also enjoy making dance and song videos and even did a catchy song and used it as the cover music to one of the family's videos while on a beach and hiking trip. They also produced a video for their father's birthday.
He too is passionate about music, moonlighting as mike man for his DJ brother, “Ragga” and having won a competition to compose a chant for the cricket team, “T&T Red Steel”, the predecessor of the Trinbago Knight Riders. He has also done a few soca recordings.
Also acknowledging his wife and childhood sweetheart, Marcia, Williams described her as his “number one supporter” and “rock”.
“I heard about her before I even saw her–this pretty girl from La Brea. We both passed for Vessigny Secondary School, my proud alma mater. As soon as I saw her, I knew this was the person everybody was talking about, so I was head over heels from day one. We became platonic friends, then best friends. Three years after we graduated, for some reason I picked up the phone and called. We rekindled our friendship and next thing you know, it was love.”
Williams had moved from La Brea with his parents to Trincity during college, but love and the job brought him back to his childhood town. After courting for ten years, when he and Marcia secured a home, they got married on July 13, 2008.
With the long list of talents under his belt, hard to believe that Williams' nickname “Chef” did not come from his cooking.
“Growing up, you have your little village areas and our street was Russia. I was the president, Mikhail Gorbachev. Then it turned to 'Kevichev', 'Chev' and then 'Chef',” Williams explained.
As for actually trying to live up to his sobriquet, Williams said he's a work-in-progress but is still comfortable in the kitchen as he usually takes over on Mother's Day and other special occasions.
He is looking forward to the girls and their mum paying him back on his special day today.
Q&A with Kevin “Chef” Williams
What do you recall about your interaction with former president Noor Hassanali when you received the President medal (gold) as a cub scout?
“It was a very proud moment and Mr Hassanali and his wife were so gracious, so warm. I remember one of our scouts, his shoelace was untied and the president actually tied his shoelace and that made the (news) papers. That's the type of person he was.”
How has fatherhood changed you?
Fatherhood is a blessing, just as I believe it is with mothers when you have a child. I didn't think there was more to give, but when a child comes along you realise how far you're willing to go, how much more you're willing to sacrifice to ensure that this life that you brought into the world is well taken care of; given the best opportunities for learning, growth.
What qualities from your own father do you incorporate into your role as a father?
My dad was a scout as well and he felt it was a good tool to become self-sufficient, to learn charity, take care of others. His disposition, his ability to function well under pressure. He has this saying: he's like a kettle; his bottom is on fire, his belly is boiling, but he's whistling still. People are amazed at my ability to stay calm in the tensest situations whether it be social, domestic, industrial. Things would be chaotic around me and I would focus on solutions; calming everybody, giving instructions. I definitely got that from him. He would always be there as a steady force through it all.
What would you say to T&T and to men in particular who may feel less inspired than you in these times?
I must say that the mental stress of this pandemic is definitely rearing its head. When you look at social media and you see how we relate to each other, no one is patient anymore and we are quick to insult, embarrass ridicule. We seem to be more interested in the drama and the 'fight down' instead of strengthening each other. What I'd say is to remember who we are, who we came from. We may be different faces and different races, but we are still one nation. We are still a blessed island; a country where you still have religious freedom, you're not facing persecution. Yes, we may have a bit of a crime surge as with any other country, but generally, we are a happy and blessed people. So in this pandemic, we need to practise that watchword called tolerance, have our discipline and continue to be productive because as we did with every major upheaval we've had in the country, each and every time, we came back stronger, better, we bonded together and charted a way forward. Be your brother's keeper and we'll get through this together.