Jaime Swecker, of Annandale, loves his job. From well before 9 a.m. to long after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, his job is to stay home with the children.

Swecker is one of only five male child-care providers licensed by Fairfax County. At a time when exasperated parents have trouble finding affordable, qualified day-care providers, this affordable, qualified day-care provider at first had a hard time finding parents who were willing to try him out.

"They'd say, 'Let me talk to my husband and I'll call back,' and then we didn't hear from them," Swecker said. Now Swecker takes care of two children in addition to his own daughters, Christy, 2 1/2 years old, and 9-month-old Dana, and has committed to caring for two more children.

According to the Fairfax County Office for Children, which investigates potential child-care providers and grants permits, the county gets about 1,000 inquiries per month from parents seeking help from the county's approximately 1,000 providers.

About 70 percent of county children up to 13 years old live in homes where both parents work.

Most county parents prefer day care at a private home, such as Swecker's, rather than at state-licensed centers. But so far, few parents have asked specifically for a male day-care provider. Swecker said he understands people's hesitancy when choosing a child-care provider, based on his own experience as a parent. Swecker and his wife, Kerrin, were once swindled out of money by a woman posing as a child-care provider.

On the other hand, he said, male day-care providers can be a fine alternative to the traditional choice of women sitters, particularly for single mothers.

"I think a man is just as capable of nurturing a child," he said. Children "need both sexes to be part of their lives."

Not so long ago, Swecker was a manager at a restaurant, working up to 80 hours a week. He was a heavy smoker, had high blood pressure, got only four or five hours of sleep on a typical night and "used to eat Rolaids like it was candy . . . . I was working so much that I really took my wife for granted. My life too," Swecker said.

Then the restaurant folded. At the same time, his wife, who had been planning to start a child-care business at home, was offered a job that she wanted.

So the Sweckers switched roles.

Jaime Swecker's job usually starts as soon as he gets out of bed. About 7:30 one morning last week, Colleen and Scott Rogers arrived at the Sweckers' house with their 3-month-old son, Joshua, and as usual, took their time leaving. "How 'bout them Reds?" Swecker asked, and handed them coffee.

The couple lingered for a half-hour, chatting with Swecker and playing with Joshua, until it was past time to go.

The Rogers family said they selected Swecker because his rates were more affordable than other places they tried, because he gives Joshua a lot of attention, and because he is a man. "I would prefer a guy, because {children} can learn the father's instincts. I think that's nice," Colleen Rogers said.

Swecker charges $3 an hour for part-time child care, $125 a week for infants and $100 a week for toddlers and young children. Child care in the county ranges between $90 and $140 a week, officials said.

After the Rogerses left, Swecker juggled the needs of his charges. He put a sleepy Joshua to bed in a crib in the living room and was particularly nurturing with Dana, who was gloomy with a nasty cold. He helped Christy select her own shoes to match her outfit, brushed her hair back into brightly colored plastic barrettes and set her up with a coloring book.

Mornings in the Swecker household also include watching "Sesame Street," snacktime, taking walks, playing with a ball in a nearby park and reading books. After lunch, the children take naps, enabling Swecker to pick up after them or clean the kitchen. By 4:30, he is alone again with his own two children. He usually starts dinner before his wife gets home from work.

Swecker does not adhere to a strict time schedule with the children. "It's pretty unstructured, and I kind of like it that way, but still have a game plan of what to do on a day-to-day basis," he said. "If someone were to ask me to describe my day, I'd say it's basically a large family by day, with two children at night."

During quiet moments, Swecker works on his future. He is trying to start a business and is considering going back to school.

"I'm so sick of working for someone else, sometimes for 80 to 90 hours a week, I will never give up time with my kids again," he said. "I have to watch the kids grow up, and along the way, I can bring other kids into it."