NEW YORK CITY — Forget Mary Poppins — for some families, the perfect nanny in New York City is a man.
At least, that's the claim of the founder of the agency "NYC Mannies" that matches clients with "big brothers" based on their children's needs.
The concept was devised by ex-opera singer John Brandon, 27, who works for a family on the Upper East Side.
"People were coming up to me all the time asking where they could get mannies," he said. He started his company earlier this year to meet that demand, and now serves families throughout the state.
"A lot of our mannies specialize in certain things, like if parents want someone who's really good at soccer or who speaks a certain language... Before a manny comes into a family, I've spent a lot of time getting to know his personality."
Brandon — whose business provides mannies at different skill levels and prices — said every full-time carer must have a college degree and every part-time manny must be at least 20 and in college.
Mannying can offer glamour, said Brandon, who said he works for a "high-profile" family who he said he's unable to identify because of a confidentiality agreement.
But it's also a profession his workers must take seriously.
"I get to travel the world and hang out with celebrities," he said.
"It’s a cool situation for me but I don’t let that distract me."
But he said the high-profile clients are not his only ones.
"We're here for every family," he said.
"If a family in Yonkers without much money wants a manny we’ll supply a manny with that skill level... We don't want money to get in the way of someone having a manny."
All of the men, who are mainly in their 20s, must be registered with CPR training. They tend to be "young professionals" who have studied a wide range of disciplines, said Brandon, noting the growing trend of men turning to mannying to support creative pursuits.
"We're basically providing a big brother service with guys who are athletic, high energy and can keep up with young kids and plan activities," said Brandon, noting that he's used his own background as a high school athlete and a professional musician in his manny work.
"The kid I work with now is so tired at the end of the day because I don't like to sit still and I'm always encouraging him to try new things."
NYC Mannies — which Brandon said has matched about 20 families since it started last winter — so far has only served clients with at least one son, but Brandon said families with only daughters have also also expressed interest.
"We’re not advocating guys over girls — we’re filling a specific need," he said of male versus female caretakers. "We just want to be that agency that supplies mannies."
Brandon — who put his opera career on hold to fully pursue his vision as a manny matchmaker — stumbled into the field at age 21 while studying at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.
"I worked at a restaurant when I was in college and there was a lawyer who came in every day and we became good friends...He'd never considered a male babysitter and I'd never heard of one," he said.
"But one weekend he said he and his wife were going to New York City and he said, 'We've got two boys, age 2 and 6, would you mind watching them?' It was nothing but laughing, playing video games and playing basketball outside. We had an amazing time."
The next week, the father asked Brandon to move in rent free and work as a manny while he finished college.
"It sounded like literally the best job I'd ever heard of," he said. "It ended up being a year of absolute fun."