WHY WE LOVE HIM: He’s taken his abusive father as inspiration to be a fantastic dad himself, and he uses both his day job and his Youtube stardom to lead other dads to awesomeness.
It’s not easy being a Youtube celebrity – while raising two girls as a single dad and holding down a day job. “I feel like I am going a hundred miles an hour,” says Jorge Narvaez, whose December 2010 video has surpassed 28.5 million views on Youtube.
Jorge, 28, and his older daughter Alexa, now 10, became celebrities after he posted their cover of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ single, “Home.” Since then they’ve eclipsed themselves with a 2011 cover of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” which garnered more than 35 million views. And their cover of the original song from Disney’s Cinderella, just posted last week, has already racked up more than 344.5k views on Youtube. (Our favorite Narvaez video just might be “Sh*t Single Fathers Say,” though.)
When Singlewith spoke to the San Diego native a few weeks ago, he was on his lunch break, back at work after a hectic weekend. “I had a film crew of about 20 people at my house. The ‘Got Milk?’ people are doing a documentary,” Jorge explained. “They’re going to connect my story to the power of milk.” It’s not entirely far-fetched: Turns out that the secret ingredient in his mom’s rice and beans is none other than: milk. “It makes them softer,” Jorge explains.
On being a celebrity: “I still have to get home and tell my kids to clean their room!”
Mom, aka Esther Alvarez, has been living with Jorge and his girls (and cooking for them!) since their joyful reunion last May. With the help of his 550,000-plus fans, Jorge and his brother successfully fought to bring Esther back home to San Diego after her 7 years of being denied re-entry from Mexico due to her immigration status. In doing so, Jorge has also helped others in the same situation by putting a personal face on the need for immigration reform.
After catching up at work, Jorge was off to Miami on February 25 to meet President Obama, as an invited participant in a Town Hall meeting on immigration. Pretty heady stuff for a kid who came over the border from Mexico illegally at age 1. Then to Los Angeles March 1 for the red-carpet premiere of Cinderella, complete with Disney-sponsored makeovers for Alexa and younger sister Eliana, 6. (The movie hits theaters this Friday, March 13.) And next week, Jorge is off to Miami again for the Hispanicize conference, which he describes as “South by Southwest for Hispanics.” He’ll be a judge for the Tecla digital media excellence awards.
“I don’t drink coffee,” he says, when asked the inevitable “where do you get the energy?” question. “I try to exercise when I can. I have a really good girlfriend who pushes me.” (Sorry, ladies.) And, naturally, “My kids are a big inspiration.” He takes the celebrity one day at a time, he says. “I still have to get home and tell my kids to clean their room!”
Jorge and his ex, Nancy, were teen parents – Alexa arrived between high school and college – but that’s where their connection to any depressing statistics ends. Jorge went to college, the first in his family to do so, graduating from University of California, San Diego with a degree in Ethnic Studies. Their young romance didn’t make it, especially with the pressure of his mom being barred from returning home, but Jorge and Nancy transitioned to 50/50 coparents. Jorge, who has the girls 3-1/2 days a week, was thinking about law school when Youtube fame hit, and he decided to use the platform while he had it.
On parenting: “Our nation is not focused on fatherhood. But if you strengthen the father, you strengthen the family.”
Jorge’s passion is fatherhood. Both personally and professionally, he wants to be part of a national movement to support and encourage men to be better parents. When he’s not jetting off to glamorous events, Jorge works full-time as an intake specialist at San Diego Dads Corps, which offers classes and support groups for fathers. His motivation for the work runs deep. Jorge’s dad was a hardworking guy who “loved us and everything,” he says. But Dad was also a drug addict, an alcoholic and had trouble communicating his emotions – which translated into serious abuse of his mother. “My dad’s father was worse,” Jorge says. “I was expected to do the same.”
Instead, Jorge managed to break the chain of abuse – and he makes it his mission to help other dads succeed, as well. “Some of the dads we work with, they want to do the right thing but they just don’t have the tools,” he says. San Diego Dads Corps coaches fathers on how to be better partners, dads and providers. Jorge says he wishes his father had had these sorts of resources. “I guarantee you my mom and dad would still be together.”
While Jorge can’t turn back the clock for his family, helping other men break the cycle of abuse or poverty or plain bad parenting is immensely gratifying. “You’re making the next generation stronger,” he says. “That father’s going to teach his kid what he learned, and that little kid’s going to be a better father.” Jorge says he goes home every night knowing he’s made a difference in a guy’s life. He wishes that there were more programs like San Diego Dads Corps around the country. “Our nation is not focused on fatherhood,” he says. “But if you strengthen the father, you strengthen the family.”
That belief is a big part of why, when he goes home after a full day of work, and after he puts the kids to bed, he starts his second shift, a 30-hour-a-week job on Youtube. “It’s exhausting, putting videos up all the time,” he admits. But worth it. “I get a lot of messages like, ‘You made my day today; you made me want to be a better father.’” By singing with his daughters and making little videos about their daily lives, Jorge aims to show what fatherhood can look like.
On what kids really need: “You don’t have to take ’em to Disneyland. Take ’em to the park.”
His message: “It’s OK to be a dad. It’s OK to sit down and fold a piece of paper and make a paper airplane for your daughter. You don’t have to take ’em to Disneyland. Take ’em to the park.” In fact, he says, when he did take Alexa and Eliana to Disneyland, their favorite part wasn’t any of the special attractions. It was playing with their dad in the pool at the hotel.
Sharing custody isn’t easy, Jorge concedes. Half a week is barely enough time with the girls, and there was a reason he and their mom broke up. “We clash at moments,” he says, “but when it comes to the kids, we set aside all our differences.”
As for Alexa, Eliana and their dad, they’re on to a new chapter, these days (though they’re unlikely to give up singing): “The three of us are literally obsessed with Minecraft.” They’re playing it together, though Jorge laughs at himself, noting that he’s even compelled to be Dad in the game, calling the shots: “Alexa, you cut the wood, I’ll make the swords, and Eliana, you go and build a fort.”
Next up on Reality Changers, Jorge’s Youtube channel, will be videos of the family playing Minecraft, he promises. Last year, they all met Joseph Garrett, aka Stampy Longnose – Youtube’s Minecraft king, who has more than 5 million subscribers – and Stampy inspired them to do it. Jorge bought his daughters a computer so they could play the game together. “You should have seen my daughter’s face,” Jorge says. “She’s more excited about me playing Minecraft with her than about the computer.”
While some parents moan about their kids’ Minecraft addictions, Jorge is glad for the chance to play with them in their world. “I want to be that father that’s able to evolve with them,” he says.
It was Howard Stern, of all people, who perhaps most perfectly summed up the secret to Jorge’s tremendous popularity, in our culture of too-often distant or absent fathers. After Jorge and Alexa first performed on American Idol, Stern said:
“Wow, Jorge, I wish you were my dad.”
UPDATE: On March 12, Jorge posted an announcement that he is leaving his full-time job to focus on his Youtube work – and on being an even better, more well-rested father.