As Father’s day nears, it is a good time to remember those fathers who made the sacrifice of going to sea so that their families would have a better way of life.
Like any other Cayman seaman, 71-year-old Captain Kem Jackson had to do just that.
‘It was a hard leaving my family to join the ship but there was nothing else. Life was hard in Cayman for everyone and there was no work,’ he said.
‘Becoming a seaman gave me the opportunity to build a home, provide for my family and contribute to the Cayman society. While I don’t miss it these days, it was what I had to do.’
Captain Kem joined National Bulk Carrier in his early teens like many other Caymanian men. The pay was small, but it was much more than they would have made in Cayman at that time.
On the ship he started his career as a galley man and through the years worked his way up to shipmate. These days, he is an engineer.
Captain Kem remembers being away at sea when his son was born.
‘That was a trying time for me, having to leave my wife to have a baby without my support.
‘In those days mail came slow and there were no telephones. I think it was about one week after that I heard she had the baby,’ said Capt Kem, recalling the details of his reaction when he heard he was a father for the first time.
Even though he was far away from home Captain Kem’s mind was always on his family back home. Through encouragement he made sure he was being a positive role model for children Joey, Patricia and Priscilla.
After spending six years on the high seas and missing the birth of his first son Joey, Captain Kem decided he had enough and returned home to be with his family and find work.
‘It was a wonderful feeling being back home with my family. Just spending time with them was pure joy after being away for so long,’ he said.
Whether it was helping Joey with school work or flying kites and model planes, petting animals with Patricia or enjoying the beach with Pricilla, this father made sure time was set aside for the family.
Married to Ola for 50 years, Capt Kem said their relationship has, fortunately, been smooth sailing, with lots of good times.
‘We spent a lot of time visiting family members, sailing the catboat, doing things with the children, going to the movies, dining out and travelling overseas.
‘We would have such a wonderful time in the North Sound getting lobsters and cooking them on the beach,’ he said. ‘In those days there were so many lobsters. I remember taking the family out to Stingray City which was called the sandbar in those days,’ he said.
‘The children loved going to the beach and most of the time we just packed what we needed and headed out in the catboat for a day on the seas.’
The proud father and mother beam with pride as they relate their first experience flying with their son Joey – now a pilot on Cayman Airways.
‘I remember when he first got his private flying lessons I was scared at first because the plane was so small but he did a fine job of flying the plane and we all returned safely,’ said Mrs. Jackson.
‘From age three Joey wanted to fly the big planes, that was his dream and he did not stop until he made captain of Cayman Airways at age 30.’
Joey is married to Karen they have two sons, Joe and Brad.
Patricia, now a mother of four, (Amanda, Paul, Robbie and Ritchie) still loves animals and has held many up-standing jobs in the community.
Priscilla has two children, Michael and Luke, and still loves the beach outings she enjoyed with her family during her younger days.
Captain Kem’s younger days
Kem Jackson grew up in West Bay and married Ola in 1959. His parents were Irene and Leslie Jackson.
When he was growing up his father and grandfather also made a living working on ships. His father worked at a dry dock in Tampa and grandfather Bob was a ship mate on the Goldfield.
During that time Mr. Jackson spent his younger days helping his retired grandfather take care of the home by gathering fire wood, sharpening tools and going to school.
‘I would help grandpa milk the cows, fix the catboats and meet with my friends to play games and go fishing.
‘Every Saturday I would also help him gather sea grass to feed the turtles that were in the crawl. In those days there were no refrigerators so turtles were only butchered when needed,’ said Captain Kem.
As a teenager he worked for Coastal Development, a company brought in by the government to fix the sandy roads.
After a spell at sea he returned home and opened a garage and spent some time working with Bob Soto shuttling tourists to popular dive sites.
Despite the hardship in those days, Captain Kem said he had a wonderful time growing up. ‘The food was good because it was harvested fresh each day and there was lots of seafood.
‘In those times there were not much visitors to the Island and those who came returned each year because they made friends here. I made good money supplying them with lobsters,’ said Captain Kem with a smile. ‘Lobsters and conchs were so plentiful those days that you could pick them up on the sandbar.’
Captain Kem also worked as a treasure hunter on the on the Polaris Jack.
But despite his work he always found time to spend with his family.
When he was much older and retired, he joined the Catboat Club and started to repair catboats. Catboats were used a lot in Cayman in those days to transport goods from one district to the other.
Today Captain Kem may not be raising his own children but he is doing a lot to make sure that other Caymanian youngsters are guided in the right way. He spends time visiting the schools sharing his knowledge and expertise on Cayman maritime history.
The best advice Captain Kem said he can give to other fathers that are married is, ‘overlook a lot of things and let her have the last say; it worked for me and we live a happy life.