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While murses don't cause much of a flutter anymore, mannies remain a rarity. When Lloyd Morgan walks around the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his two charges, the sight unhinges strangers' jaws. "Here I am, a big black guy with two little white kids," he laughs. "We get stared at every single time." Morgan, 25, earned his college degree in social work, but when offered a job as a nanny, "I said, 'What the heck, I'll give it a try.'" Three years later, he finds the hours and duties give him the freedom to pursue other dreams, like acting. Employed by a couple who are both lawyers, Morgan picks up the kids from school, takes them to parks and museums and supervises their homework. On a snowed-out school day, they made snow forts for hours. Reared by a single mother, Morgan considers his work great training for becoming a dad someday. He says, "I look intimidating, but I've been around kids so much it's made me a gentle giant."
Many men who enter female-dominated fields endure winks, nudges and misunderstandings. "My parents thought I was gay," says massage therapist Patrizio. In child care, some of the concerns are so serious as to harm job prospects; some nanny-placement agencies refuse to consider men, for fear of hiring a pedophile or turning off parents. But in many cities, parents with hectic schedules and energetic boys are increasingly asking for male nannies. "I have a larger demand than the pool of available male nannies," says Cliff Greenhouse, president of the Pavillion Agency in New York City, which has placed three men in recent months, up from maybe one annually in recent years.
Younger men seem less concerned about gender stereotypes than do their elders, perhaps because many grew up with working mothers, with girls as equals in the classroom or with female bosses. If women can be police officers or CEOs, they reason, why can't men be kindergarten teachers or librarians?
Adrian Echevarria's father owns a beauty salon, while his mother is vice principal of an elementary school. The 21-year-old sees no problem going from drumming with his rock band by night to wiping little noses and teaching kids their colors and shapes by day. That said, he knows he's unusual. When parents walk into his preschool in Oak Park, Ill., and see a young man in baggy clothes, some "freak out," he says. But when their children clamber onto his back and call him Mr. A., the moms and dads come around. ("Isn't he adorable?" whispers a mother to a visitor.) The job pays Echevarria about $15,000 a year and helps him finance his next goal: earning a degree to teach elementary school. Teaching is already a profession he loves. "At circle time, half of them used to use the cushions as Frisbees," he says of his well-behaved tots. "Knowing that you've taught them some things is cool. I'm 21. I shouldn't be thinking that this is so cool, but it is."