Travel/Adventure

The Adventures of Alex Sperry – the Manny

Alex Sperry is a manny. That is, he works as a male nanny for a wealthy, globe-trotting family. More than an employee and not quite a family member, how he got to this point in his life has been “an eye-opening experience.”

Alex Sperry’s Small Town Start

Sperry hails from Pattonsburg, Mo., the town so badly damaged by the 1993 flood that it was relocated three miles away. It is a “small town where everyone knows your business,” Sperry says. “I was not meant for a small town lifestyle.”

He first became a manny at 16 while in high school. Sperry’s mother knew he was unlikely to work on the family farm. She connected him with a local couple with newborn twins. “I lived with them on weekends,” Sperry says.

Kansas City Manny, Alex Sperry, posing on the Country Club Plaza. Photo by Bess Ann Photography, Bess Sweiger

He shopped for groceries, ran errands, played with the kids and bathed them. When the family moved to Clinton, Sperry drove two hours after school on Fridays to live with and work for the family. Each Monday morning, he returned to school.Perks also came with the tedious chores. He says, “They took me to Disneyworld with their children 13 years in a row.”

In 2005, he changed employers to work with a second family that had three triplets with a fourth child born a year later. One boy required a medical ventilator. Sperry says, “The mother suffered from postpartum depression. The divorce came later.”

As a member of the household, Sperry’s life orbited around the family’s needs, emotional shifts and dynamics. He wanted a fresh start that would get him beyond the Midwest and the turbulent undercurrent of his life at the time.

Then Sperry had an epiphany. He could be a nanny for celebrities. He says in retrospect, “I had the experience.”

A Manny’s West Coast Dream

Sperry observed how celebrity nannies for Ethan Hawke, Rob Lowe and Britney Spears were appearing in tabloids. It prompted him to contact a Los Angeles employment agency that specialized in contracting nanny work for an appointment. “I flew to Los Angeles in 2007 for a week and met with every agency in town,” he says. “A male nanny experienced in working with twins and triplets was rare.”

He met with a producer living in a $20 million home for his first interview. The staff included a personal chef and many assistants. “What am I getting myself into?” Sperry recalls thinking. “I aspired to have it all. No one had ever really made it out of my town.” He didn’t get the job. Dejected, he returned to Pattonsburg.

A year later, the agency called Sperry about a family interested in him. He flew to L.A. once again and had dinner with the family. “They said, ‘We can mold him into what we want,’” he recalls. “A week later, I was hired by the owner of Hyatt Hotels, the 16th most wealthy man in the U.S. at the time.”

Sperry, 23, became a live-in manny for seven children at the family’s Topanga Canyon residence in the Santa Monica Mountains, west of L.A. He earned $68,000 annually, plus bonuses and spending allowance. He had made it out of Pattonsburg. Sperry was one of four live-in nannies on a staff that included two additional nannies on weekends, 24 housekeepers and security guards between the family’s two homes. Getting used to his new surroundings, Sperry had a full-circle moment. “I realized that I was living seven doors down from the house of the producer I interviewed with a year prior.”

He adjusted to his new life in a gated community, exploring Beverly Hills and West Hollywood on weekends off. He flew by private jet with the family on trips. He says, “We’d fly to Atlanta, Hong Kong and Tokyo. We spent a month and a half in Bangkok. I flew with the twins, another nanny and the mother. The house manager came with the other five kids later.”

While in Bangkok, the family stayed in a villa “where everyone else was a billionaire,” Sperry recalls. “We could get anything at the owner’s expense and always had lots of pocket cash.”

One day, the mother of the family asked Sperry how much he was being paid annually. He replied and she upped his pay by $5,000 on the spot. Despite the abundance of wealth and lush lifestyle, Sperry discovered a downside to his role.

“People threw money in your face. They think they own you,” he says. “I had middle-class family values. I was young and never realized what I was doing to myself when I took the cash.”

Months later, Sperry and other staff were fired unexpectedly by the house manager. He says, “I was shocked. I had done everything asked of me. I was confused and caught off guard.”

He was given a severance package and told to get off the property in 30 minutes. “They told me the news at the tennis court. There was no goodbye to the family, kids or other staff. No explanation,” he says. “They just let people go.”

Sperry had been working for the family for a little over a year. “I had the sense of being the king of the castle. I mean, I lived in that house. Money does that to you. It took time to ground myself.”

Finding Balance Between Babysitting Jobs

Sperry returned to Missouri and picked up work with the first family he had worked for at the beginning of his career. He says, “I lived with my parents and worked. I was in transition. It’s hard to get work as a male nanny here. My experience became a liability. People were intimidated because I had worked for this wealthy family in L.A.”

Today, Sperry works for a wealthy filmmaking couple––the mother is German, the father is Swedish––where he cares for their American-born kids. He spends time between Europe and Los Angeles. He says, “They are more down-to-earth than my previous employers.”

He helps the kids with school, organizes clothes for traveling, grocery shops, mows grass and does laundry. Besides the housekeeper, he is the only staff but the domesticity of his life feels cozier. “They are like my second parents. They really care about me,” he says of his current employers. “I’m more like a son with duties and I have my own time. Sometimes it is crazy to organize around their life, but I’m used to it. It’s hard to decompress. I have to be more aware of my needs and time. You become part of the family and don’t think about it being a job.”

Now, Sperry strives to set boundaries. A live-in nanny has little freedom or privacy. He needed to be more social. Sperry recounts a fight with the mother in spring 2013 while in L.A. He told her that he “didn’t have a normal life.”

“They agreed to look at an apartment for me in Stockholm,” he says. “You have to be aware of your own needs. I want to be a live-out nanny, have a life, maybe adopt a child.”

Later this year, he may help the family move from Sweden to L.A., depending on their decision. Until then, he anticipates returning to Kansas City one day, where he “can work and live a normal life.” He says, “I don’t know when, but this is home.”

Finding a qualified nanny isn’t easy.  Here are some web resources for finding a nanny in Kansas City:

Nannies of Kansas City – http://www.nannieskc.com/

International Nanny Association – http://www.nanny.org/

Ella’s Silver Spoon Sitters – http://www.silverspoonsitters.com