Is it wrong to take your kids viral?

A single dad tries to capitalize when a duet with his daughter catches on. Is he taking it too far?

Mary Elizabeth Williams
January 13, 2011 1:35AM (UTC)

On New Year's Eve, Jorge Narvaez, a 24-year-old California single dad, posted a video of himself strumming, whistling, and singing with his young daughter Alexa. The clip, a sweetly sleepy cover of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros's heart tugging "Home," didn't have the wow factor of baby tossing Russians, or the human interest drama of a homeless DJ.  It seemed like an intimate family moment -- a child leaning on her father's guitar, the two of them crooning, "Home is wherever I am with you." It was more irresistible than a kitten with a mirror  and went appropriately viral within days.

Since then Narvaez has been working tirelessly to parlay his moment of Internet fame into something bigger for his family. "I'm just a father of two working my way through college," he explains on his YouTube Channel, along with contact info for "support, donations, letters, show appearances." Last week the self-described "student/father/singer/songwriter/photographer" created a fan page chock full of photos of him and his beautiful daughters Alexa and Eliana.


On YouTube, he added videos of himself and Alexa doing Alicia Keys's "Unthinkable" and a clip of both girls clowning to Paramore's "The Only Exception." He's done a radio appearance with Alexa. His YouTube channel features a photo of him with his daughters and makes the promise "We're gonna whistle our way to the top." And as one Facebook commenter congratulated him, "Love how you're getting your kids involved in your music career."

His kids certainly look like they're loving it too. You want to make two little girls happy? Turn on a camera. And Narvaez, who says he's the first person in his family to go to college and is currently busily submitting grad school applications  certainly doesn't seem to lack for deep affection for his children or concern for their welfare. He's even gracious about his ex, whom he describes as an "amazing woman." And as he wrote on Facebook Tuesday, "I am a low income student and have crazy loans and debt, but we're just having a good time. Until someone actually reaches out, then we'll see. First the children's' welfare, then the rest. But I do want a ... better future for them! So, Disney, Oprah, Ellen, George Lopez, friends, what would you do?"

What parent doesn't want a better future for his children? But given Disney's shaky track record with its princesses, would having the mouse come calling automatically be the best thing that could happen to Narvaez's daughters? And it bears stating that an adult's dreams for them – and himself -- can get muddled when his audience is so eager to make the children part of the show.


Before his duet with his daughter took off, Narvaez was posting solo clips of his performances. It took a kid to make him take off. And of that lilting "Home" clip, Narvaez writes that it was filmed at 11 at night, after "9 or 10 practice runs." Alexa doesn't look any worse for the wear, but kids are eager to please. And what happens next time, when the demand for more adorable videos of very young girls belting out pop tunes eclipses the public interest in their father? What if that current YouTube goodwill rises up against those kids and turns into nasty comments just as quickly as a chipmunk can dramatically turn his head? Narvaez so far seems to be handling his newfound attention adeptly, and he appears for the entire world like a father who puts his children's best interests first. But the rapid ascent of the Narvaez clan raises questions about parental ambition, children's rights to privacy, and how all of us, as caring parents, strike that balance between the responsibly to provide for our kids and the need to protect them from becoming commodities. 

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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