Routine Behavior is a new series where we talk to guys who successfully juggle businesses, careers, and parenting about the routines that keep them on track. Up next is Nigel Barker: world-renowned fashion photographer, filmmaker, TV personality, author, humanitarian, and father of two. Barker’s most significant work might be his role as an ambassador for the United Nations’ Girl-Up empowerment initiative, but you probably remember him from his time as a celebu-judge on that show you pretended not to watch over your wife’s shoulder: America’s Next Top Model. He’d agree that he spends most of his life surrounded by beautiful women, but you’d be talking about Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell; he’d be talking about his wife and daughter.
What time do you start answering emails in the morning?
With all that’s going on during mornings, I try not to check email before 9.
How do you reconnect with your kids when you get home from work each day?
I work from home. I have an office in my house. And one of the reasons I did that was specifically because I wanted to spend more time with my kids. I used to have a studio [in Manhattan] on Fourteenth and Ninth, but really got rid of it 2 years ago and moved into our own house. We turned the dining room into an office. The great thing about it is my kids come home and I see them as they walk in the door. My favorite thing about working from home is that they run in, see me, shout my name, and just come running into my lap.
I stop working until the evening. I’m one of those people who stops from about 4:30 or 5 to about 9, and I’ll work a couple of hours in the evening. It’s about shuffling your time around, really.
What is the one piece of kid-related gear that you can’t live without?
My kids don’t have much gear that they can’t live without, but it’s probably become the water bottle, which is kind of a weird thing. I never even thought about it as a kid thing. I never used a water bottle until I had children, and now it’s the one thing that no one ever leaves the house without. It’s the one thing we all run back to get – the water bottle.
How many times a week do you get home for dinner and do you ever cook?
I cook all the time. I love to cook. My wife cooks as well, but I will cook whenever I’m home. We all take part in cooking. We all jump into the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite things to do with my kids. When I grew up, my mom was always cooking, and I would cook with her. I bring in the kids and they love to chop and be right next to us. So that’s a fun family activity.
I’m home for dinner at least 4 days of the week. I travel a lot for work, so unfortunately I’m gone randomly.
What is the longest you’ve ever played with the kids without looking at your phone?
A miracle of miracles, I think I’ve actually gone 2 days without looking at my phone. I do look at my phone a lot, but I’m one of those people who compartmentalizes. When I’m trying to do something, I put my phone down. For example, when I’m shooting for the job, I won’t look at my phone. In fact, I give my phone to someone else who will check it for me.
“A miracle of miracles, I think I’ve actually gone 2 days without looking at my phone.”
I rarely answer my phone either. For me, that’s one of those important things about just getting along in life and doing your job properly: If you focus absolutely on what you’re doing, then you’ll do the job well and efficiently and know you’ve done your best. I provide the same advice to my kids when I’m with them. If I’m not there 100 percent, I’m not going to achieve what I want, and neither are they.
How often do you travel for work and do you look forward to it or dread it?
I actually dread it these days. “Dread” is perhaps a strong word, because I’m very lucky at what I do. I’m a fashion photographer, and I get to travel all over the world and all over the country, and I photograph interesting people and all the rest of it. But I’ve been doing this for 22 years, so there comes a time in your life when living out of a suitcase isn’t fun.
Certainly, when you’ve got 2 beautiful little children at home with a gorgeous wife, a hotel room by yourself isn’t exciting. I look forward to coming home, and I spend my time away searching for things to buy for my kids and bring back to them. Yeah, I don’t enjoy leaving too much. At the moment, I’ve been away at least once a week. I’m flying to Chicago Tuesday this week and won’t get back until Thursday, and I’ll be in a different city every week for the next 6 weeks.
How much exercise do you get in a given week and what kind?
I work out 6 days a week every day at 5:45 AM with a group of guys called “The Dog Pound. It’s an interesting, eclectic group of guys. I work out with Hugh Jackman, AKA “The Wolverine;” 3 Olympic swimmers, including Conor Dwyer who’s going to Rio next year, Larson Jensen, and Matt Target — they’re all gold and silver medaling Olympians. There’s a Navy SEAL, Tom Farley, the president of the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a really eclectic group of guys. Other than the Olympic swimmers, we’re all around 40 years old and enjoy the camaraderie. It’s really an exciting group.
It’s the best midlife crisis ever. We could all be getting ourselves Corvettes or something else. Instead, we all decided to challenge ourselves. Hugh Jackman is a friend of mine, and he invited me to work out with him. It took me a while. Without being funny, it took me about 6 months of him asking me to join: “C’mon, you should work out with us. You should work out with me. We’ll be fine. You work out all the time. You’ll be good.” The first time I went, I almost vomited. That’s now become a rite of passage for anyone who joins us: they pretty much all puke on the first time.
What’s your go-to when you need work-related inspiration?
My go-to is really to turn everything off, put music on in my ears, and go for a long walk. I get a lot of inspiration by what I see around me, how I’m feeling, and what’s going on in music and the world at large. I’m inspired by the time of the year … anything, quite frankly, except sitting at my desk; that doesn’t inspire me.
That’s now become a rite of passage for anyone who joins us: they pretty much all puke on the first time.
What’s your go-to when you need to completely turn your brain off?
I enjoy good escapist movies. I’m a bit of an action or sci-fi movie guy. My wife really can’t stand those movies. She likes the romantic comedies and all that sort of stuff, so we watched a movie over the weekend that she wanted to watch, and I pretty much slept through the whole thing. If I like a movie, it’s some crazy action flick that I can dream of some other world that’s completely not my reality.
How’s your attendance record at your kid’s events/games?
When I’m around, I’m there. I drop off my kids at school every single day that I’m here. I’m pretty much the only dad who does drop-offs; it’s all mums. Last week, I took my kids to watch them play tennis. I’m not like most people who have a 9 to 5: I’m free to do what I want. I can go in the middle of the day. I can do field trips. I can do all those sorts of things. Of course, when I’m gone I’m gone, it’s 6 in one hand, half a dozen in the other. I think I do as much as most dads. There are some things I do more of, at least, I feel more present when I am there.
It’s quality versus quantity. If I could have more quantity I would. I always try for that, and it’s tough. My kids sometimes say, “Oh, Daddy, you’re going away again. You’ve been away so much.”
My wife is the first one to say, “Honey, your dad also takes you to school, and he’s also the one who does this and that for you. Other parents are around, but the kids don’t see their dads because they aren’t the ones dropping them off and picking them up. And a lot of parents don’t see the kids when they come back from school, unless they just happen to be there when they get back from work late.”
It’s one of those things I just have to deal with.
What’s your kid’s favorite book at the moment?
Jack’s reading something called, I Funny, which is great. We were driving back from our house upstate last night, and he was reading in the car out loud. It’s a hilarious, great book.
What’s your kid’s favorite toy at the moment?
Jack’s (9 years old) gone back into toy cars. He hasn’t gone into cars in a while, but he gets really into a subject and all of the sudden now he’s really into cars in general. He was watching “Top Gear” for a while and all these other car shows. He’s into Ferraris and Formula One car racing. Now he’s really back into his Matchbox cars. It’s very sweet because many of them were mine when I was a kid. There’s even a few that were my older brother’s, so many of these cars that he’s playing with are 50 or 40 years old. It’s very nostalgic for me to see these old beat up cars from the 70s and 60s along with the brand new ones I bought him.
Jasmine’s (6 years old) favorite toys are dolls and stuff like that. Her interests are all different.