Just a couple of years ago, on the brink of becoming a father, I unexpectedly found myself in a new job that dimmed the very creative impulses that made me the perfect candidate just months earlier. What on paper read like my dream job, turned out to be one of the most disorienting experiences of my career.
By the end of each day, after sitting in meeting after meeting punctuated by breaks in an anonymous beige cubicle, I felt so hollow and empty that I worried whether I would have anything left to offer to my growing family. Truth be told, there were days that my work literally zapped all of my excitement about becoming a father, which was previously and is now utterly unthinkable.
I did my last work meeting on our daughter’s due date, and then we began the surreal process of trying to coax her out of her momma’s belly and into the world — taking hikes in the California Redwoods and eating spicy fried chicken sandwiches from Bakesale Betty’s, our neighborhood’s most beloved spot.
Slowly, I felt myself coming back to life, just as my daughter started hers. The moment she was born, however, we met someone unexpected, and immediately ditched our agreed upon name without any clear alternative — to the point that we started asking our nurses for suggestions and votes.
After the first of many sleepless nights, I awoke bleary-eyed in Courtney’s hospital bed the morning following the birth, with a vision for what felt like the perfect way to introduce this little creature to the world. I snuck out of the hospital and ran to an office supply store to buy a bunch of “Hello my name is…” nametags.
On my return, I placed our tightly swaddled daughter gently among a pile of nametags, and in that moment Courtney used a thick black marker to write “Maya” across one of the nametags, which we then placed on her little chest as she snoozed away unknowingly. I climbed onto a chair and peered down at Maya, laying there peacefully, and started snapping away, tears rolling down my face.
It was the first creative thing I had done in weeks, if not months. In hindsight, it doesn’t even feel that creative. But it does feel like me, or the celebratory, enthusiastic person that I had always been before I let a job take those things from me.
I knew from that moment forward that the person I wanted and needed to be as a father — creative, emotional, vulnerable — was the opposite of the person that I felt like in my job. One of those things had to go, and ultimately did.
In the months that followed, Maya’s straight brown hair and dark eyes gave way to the most amazing mop of thick blond curls and beautiful pearl blue eyes. She became my creative partner in crime — in countless photos and even an occasional daddy-daughter matching outfit. We’ve staged a Fourth of July photo sporting matching Evel Knievel leisure suits, goggles, and bandanas on a red, white, and blue Schwinn Stingray banana seat bike.
We’ve worn matching fuzzy bunny ears each Easter and smart orange ties to some friends’ wedding.
Truth be told, I’ve even stuffed her in a mailbox for an AOL “You’ve got mail” shot. She loved it.
To this day, with the exception of her hugs and holding my finger as we walk slowly down the street, there are few things that I enjoy more than staring at her through my camera lens.
While I am grateful to have returned to and rebuilt a thriving freelance career, in which I can fully express my creativity and never suffer sitting in a cubicle, I’m only half joking when I tell people that my real dream job would be to photograph Maya full time.
Beyond her doting parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles, the biggest fan of our photos very well may be Maya herself. Barely a day goes by that she doesn’t page through her first-year photo album, smiling at the thrill of seeing herself or giggling at her silly papa’s antics.
I look at my endless stream of photos of Maya and see it as my proudest creative work. To this day, each shot — whether one that I meticulously plan for weeks, or one that I catch completely unexpectedly — quickly puts even my most intense and important professional work in perspective. I have a feeling Maya always will.