They sit at the head of long tables because they’ve made their bones. They absorb success in their bones but also carry the ghosts of failure on their backs.
They are captains of their boats, standing stoic on the sterns, leading these vessels made for profit through sometimes tempestuous seas that change at the drop of a shilling. Not all make it to dry land. Not all get the encore.
But often when the fat lady sings, they are just reduced to mere men holding a more important title of “fathers”, a title that can’t fit in any business card.
And fatherhood is a different ship all together with a completely different journey, one which the successes and failures are defining because it could eventually mean the difference between being a dad or just remaining a father.
Ahead of this weekend’s Father’s Day, JACKSON BIKO, rang up a few of these men (after 6pm) and asked all of them one question: What kind of father do you aspire to be that you are not currently?
Then also asked them to rate themselves on a scale of one to ten: ten being a fantastic dad and one being, well, just a father.
CEO, Cytonn Investments
“I aspire to get this life/work balance right as a father. Running a company that I do you are ideally a glorified administrator.
[Chuckles], because you are as busy as demands of the day dictate and often my day runs until 9pm. Amidst this, I try to drop my eight- year- old daughter off to school whenever I can and my schedule being what it is, I obviously suffer from guilt that I’m not doing enough for her as her father.
My wife is more hands on with her, she does homework with her and whatnot and I wish I was like that. But the trade off in all these is that she - my daughter - can’t say she lacks for anything.
What I do to make up though is I always block Wednesday afternoons to pick her and take her for piano lessons. It’s a commitment I made and I don’t break.
My rating as a father? [Chuckle] No, I will pass. I’m off to the gym.”
CEO, Centum Investments
“That’s a hard question, Biko! I wish my son was here to answer it. [Long pause]. You know why I say it’s a difficult question?
Because I’m currently doing things that I should be doing; spend time, school drop offs, attending school activities, homework.
[Pause] The one thing I wish I could be to get an interest to learn how to play those video games with my son. This is basically an age and era thing, these new computer things, well, are just sometimes too difficult to wrap your head around.
My rating? I would give myself an 8”
CEO, Kenya Bankers Association
“I think letting the kids wander more on their own. Stepping aside and letting them make their own decisions and make their own mistakes.
It’s normal for us to try over protect our children, to be over cautious with them and sometimes be overbearing.
We want to teach them about the mistakes we made and learnt from when we should be letting them make their own mistakes and learn from them.
Because without mistakes we can learn very little. I have a 22 and 30 year old and I have tried to step away and let them choose their own paths. One has pursued a law degree and the other a double degree in sports and computer science.
These were their own choices. I merely guided them. I want to aspire to do more of that; watching them beat their own path.
On a scale I would give myself a 7.”
Chairman, Kenya Pipeline Company
[Long laugh]. “ What do I aspire to be as a father? My children are old now - 33, 30 and 22. But I would have loved to be a 9-5 kind of father.
Someone who is home all the time. When you are dealing with policy as I have for the longest time, you will find yourself in many meetings talking about oil or fiscal matters.
But these meetings don’t hold any relationship to personal income. Meetings are wealth destroyers even though they might make policy sense.
You know what I mean? I wish I could translate those meetings to time with the kids. Having said that I don’t have regrets because I have managed to be a present father, and I have made sacrifices for them.
Founder, Nairobi Women’s Hospital
“My aspiration? That’s a good one. [Pause] I would like to be more present as a father. For 18 years, I ran the hospitals under conditions that were truly brutal.
I’m talking about being on the whole time, even when you are asleep you are somehow working. So those 18 years felt like 48 years.
[Laughs]. Running nine hospitals is not a game. Then one or two years ago, I decided I couldn’t do this on my own for too long.
I wasn’t young enough for it. So I started grooming a CEO to take over who did last year July. It has freed me to catch up on parts of fatherhood that I had lost, so to speak.
It’s gotten better, because now I focus more on strategy engagement, as you can hear I’m whispering because I’m at a reception waiting to get into a meeting. What I would love to do is get home earlier and be a dad.
My rating? Hmmm. I’d say an 8. But I’m a work in progress.”
“What do I aspire to be as a father? I’m already a good father. [Laughs]. I’m there for my children. I take care of all their welfare. When you run a nightclub [Kiza] you have to spend time there at night but I’m lucky that I have full days when I can pick them and drop them.
But I would definitely want more time with them. But what is more time, Biko? How much time is more time? I think that that is the big question.
I’d rate myself as an 8.”
Country Manager, DHL
“That’s a very interesting question. [Pause]. Truth is I’d like to be available for my children than I am because these are their formative years.
This is the time for us to build trust as fathers something they need now more than any other time as kids because the challenges of growing up now are more complex than when we grew up.
I would want to have a more intimate relationship with my children, you know talk to my son about being a man.
I would like to build trust and a more solid friendship that will last forever and I realise that this is the time. And the window is small and is always closing. I lock my Sundays for family. I don’t do anything else.
But I have also noted how fast my children are changing. Literally every week they are different people.
Providing for them financially is not enough actually it's insignificance of all the things you will be judged by because it’s not the fees you pay that will see them through, it’s time you spend building their minds and character that will eventually count. I’m working on that.
I’d rate myself as a 5.
Chairman, Tamarind Group
“Sorry, I took a while to return this call. Business. But why would you put me on the spot with this questions.
Have you watched that Elton John film called Rocketman? I just did and after watching it I’m happy to say that I didn’t do too badly as a father. [Big laugh].
Look, I don’t have any regrets as a father. I think I have done very well by my kids. I tick most of those boxes because I educated them, provided for them, I supported them in whatever they choose to do, I have inspired and loved them for who they are.
Listen, do you know my middle son, Jason, is now a rapper? Not only that he raps in Kiswahili! Kwanza Kiswahili sanifu.
[Chuckles] His stage name is Samaki Mkuu. I support him in whatever he chooses to do. You have to as a father, you have to let them follow their passion.
My rating? Would I be arrogant if I said I’m a 10? You know what, put that down, I’m a 10.