Mary Poppins Makes Way for the Manny

Are you a Park Avenue power mom? If so, there are more than a few good men out there. They're athletic, smart, good-looking and they love children, but don't get the wrong idea. These guys aren't looking for dates — they want to help raise your kids.

Britney Spears hired a 29-year-old Naval Academy grad to watch her kids.

Macho action star Vin Diesel displayed his brand of child care in the film "The Pacifier."

And remember Mr. French? The guy on the 1960s TV show "Family Affair" who looked after Buffy and Jody when Uncle Bill went to the office? He was, perhaps, the original Park Avenue "manny," or male nanny. He may have been the first, but he certainly wasn't the last.

Today's mannies are young, active, educated and in very high demand among New York's very rich.

Holly Peterson, the author of a new novel called "The Manny," said, "I've always hired mannies. I love mannies. Mannies are really, really, fun child-care givers because they're messier, they're sillier, they play harder, they rough and tumble your kids all over the park. I think it's great for my kids to have a male role model in the house."

Peterson is an editor at Newsweek and a former producer at ABC News. She's also a mother of three and a Park Avenue native who has long been fascinated by how the uberwealthy raise their children.

"When they drop off their kids, the bamboo on their earrings matches the trim on their heels. … New York is an immensely energetic, competitive town, so when it comes to kids, that plays into it as well," she said. "How many languages? How many sports? What kind of grades? What kind of clothes? … It's really an endless supply of absurd over-the-top behavior."

Click here to read an excerpt of "The Manny."

'Too Many Barbie Dolls'

Historically, this is a neighborhood where a family with three children has three nannies. Instead, Peterson hired 20-year-old John "Sunshine" Margaritis to be her manny. She said it was actually her husband's idea.

"My son was a kid who had a fair amount of tantrums. He's a middle kid between two bossy sisters. And he was around, my husband called it, an 'estrogen explosion' all day long," she said. "There was no guy in the house and it was driving my husband crazy, because it was just too many Barbie dolls, too many princess costumes, too many plastic slippers, and all these things, and he really wanted a guy in the house. So it was actually my husband that started pushing it."

Peterson met Margaritis — who had never worked as a manny before — last summer when he was giving her kids surfing lessons in the Hamptons.

Professional child care may seem like an odd job for a 20-year-old surfer and part-time T-shirt designer, and Margaritis said he was given some grief by his friends "in the beginning, but now that they see how much fun I have and stuff and they're behind desks or doing what they're doing. I get to hang out all day with kids and I love it, so it's cool."

Wanted: More Mannies

Margaritis begins each day at the beach, then works at his family's T-shirt company for a few hours before heading into Manhattan to begin his daily duties as Peterson's manny.

Margaritis said he didn't anticipate the job being as much fun as it is.

"I've traveled with the family," he said. "I went to Mexico and I surfed in Mexico with the whole family."

"You have a built-in surf teacher," added Peterson. "Part of the deal is free surf lessons whenever we want."

Cliff Greenhouse runs Pavilion Agency in Manhattan, a company that places nannies and mannies with the most well-heeled families in New York.

"We have placed many over the years … but there's not enough. The percentage of male nannies in the work force is probably less than 1 percent," he said. "Many of the child-care providers we place are making salaries in the excess of $100,000. The only thing holding back the growth, probably, is the lack of males interested in doing this as a career."

It may also be the case that some New York society fathers just aren't ready for the concept of employing a manny, but Peterson said her husband wasn't jealous.

"Most husbands, when they hear about it, get really jealous," she said. "They feel displaced. They feel like they want to teach their kids how to throw a spiral. … But my husband didn't [feel jealous]. My husband really felt a lot of solidarity with my son."

Are Mannies 'Sexessories?'

A word of advice: If you're a mother considering taking the manny route, don't give Peterson's book to your husband. The manny in the novel is portrayed as a desirable "sexessory" for lonely, wealthy wives, and the book features a steamy affair between the neglected mom and her hunky, snowboarding manny.

"It's not real life, it's fiction," said Peterson. "I don't believe it happens in real life much, to tell you the truth."

Greenhouse said that he'd "heard of instances where the manny or the nanny would have romantic relationships with their employers, but it is highly unusual."

And what has been the response from Peterson's friends and fellow moms?

"They wonder about a guy in the house during the day," she said. "I can't lie about that. They do. … If you have a guy in the house, people wonder, they ask. They ask that question. I laugh. I say, 'He's like my little brother, you know. He's 19. It's not like that."

And Peterson believes that mannies are often more qualified to care for children than Mary Poppins and her cohorts ever were. After all, it's hard to find a grandmotherly figure who can throw a tight spiral.

"It's also hard to find your grandmotherly nanny throwing them across the bed, getting in a pillow fight, getting more excited than they are in the middle of the pillow fight," Peterson said. "I mean, he gets more excited than they do half the time. When you work hard, you want your kids to be happy and have fun, so that's the main thing. So if you can find the guy who's responsible, who you really trust, I recommend it."