Mr. Poppins Films, TV blaze career path, but will men follow?

December 10, 1993|By Jodi Duckett | Jodi Duckett,Morning Call

Technically, wrestling celebrity Hulk Hogan's role in the movie, "Mr. Nanny," is more of a bodyguard than that of a full-fledged nanny, but seeing him cast as the reluctant guy who cares for and protects two motherless, rambunctious youngsters begs the question.

So does watching Eldin, the offbeat painter-turned-nanny for television's career-minded "Murphy Brown," whose nurturing instincts are evident as he plays patty-cake with Murphy's baby son, Avery.

And there's Robin Williams who, disguised in drag in the movie, "Mrs. Doubtfire," becomes super nanny so he can spend more time with his three children following a divorce from Sally Field.

Is it an oddity for families to hire men to assume the traditionally female job of caring for children? Are more men breaking the gender barriers and pursuing this kind of work?

The answer is that, while those in the nanny field have gone so far as to give male nannies their own moniker -- "mannies" -- there are so few men working as nannies that no one has bothered to tally them.

There is little indication that males are marching into the child-care world with the same gusto that women have been marching through corporate doors, but many in the business say they are getting more calls from men interested in becoming nannies, some from men who have lost other jobs. And some say they see a bit more willingness on the part of families to give men a chance.

"From what I see, men have a long way to go in this area," says Christine L'Ecuyer, a child-care consultant for Perfect Nanny, a placement agency in North Wales, Pa. Her agency had some male nanny applicants, but has never placed a male nanny.

EF Au Pair, a Cambridge, Mass., company which arranges for young men and women from Europe to live with American families and care for their children, has 40 men among its 2,049 nannies, up from previous years. Says program director Laura Blaskett: "As men become more involved in child care, we will begin to see men taking more active roles as being au pairs and nannies. I can't say I can see it happening overnight. I definitely think the media, television shows and movies will have an influence and make it more acceptable."

Ms. Blaskett says the men attracted to the business often have done youth work, such as coaching sports or leading Scouts. They are likely to find work with single moms with young sons.

That's the case with Susan Murphy, a single mom from Yardley, Pa., who is awaiting a 19-year-old male au pair to arrive from Sweden to help care for her energetic 4 1/2 -year-old son, Adam.

"I noticed there are things my son likes to do being a boy that I don't think I can fulfill, like he wants to go out and kick a soccer ball. This male au pair is an assistant gym teacher who loves soccer. Also, things like having somebody to help me get the Christmas tree up the stairs, to help me to take the trash out," says Ms. Murphy. "I like the protective kind of feature that a male au pair can bring." Because the demand for good nannies is usually larger than the supply, those who work in the field say it's too bad that men don't get more involved, but they understand why.

"Families are so suspicious about so many things. It will take a while for them until they are really comfortable with the idea of a male nanny," says Wendy Sachs, president of the International Nanny Association and owner of the Philadelphia Nanny Network.Ms. Sachs has placed just one man in nine years.

"I wish . . .," says Suzette Trimmer, co-owner of Your Other Hands, a placement agency in Philadelphia, when asked if families are willing to hire men. Ms. Trimmer says she recently had a great male nanny applicant who was a substitute teacher and a volunteer at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia who was looking for more work.

"I could not for three months get one single family in Philadelphia to take him as a sitter. They were afraid. They were afraid what they hear on the news. Parents would say, 'What kind of a man wants to be a baby-sitter?' It was a shame."

The only time Ms. Trimmer has placed a man during her six years in business was last Christmas, when singer Bruce Springsteen and his band wanted a man to watch their children at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia while the band gave a concert.She had no men on her placement list at the time, so she sent her husband.

Vann Atwater, director of the professional nanny training program at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, says there are usually two reactions when she suggests to a family that there are male nannies available.

"There's this instant, 'Oh, no. I don't think I want to consider that,' or 'Gee, I never thought about that,' " says Ms. Atwater.

To those who wonder what kind of man would want to be a nanny, 23-year-old Malcolm June of Los Alamos, one of just two graduates of Ms. Atwater's nanny training program, is happy to offer himself as a role model.

Now a preschool teacher, Mr. June will become a nanny in May when his wife, Anna, gives birth to their first child. Mr. June will take over from Anna the charge of a 2 1/2 -year-old boy and 8-month-old girl.

Mr. June, who resisted pressure to follow in his engineering father's footsteps, instead explored careers like social work and theater; he wanted to do something "that made people feel better."

But he found that working with children was his forte after he got a job as a counselor at a summer children's program at the University of Mexico-Los Alamos.

"I felt kind of a sense of pride that I was doing something different. I really like the fact that the job I have is something a whole lot of men don't do. I feel like kind of an astronaut."

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