Peter Alexander has spent his career as a journalist for NBC News covering some of the most consequential stories from the past decade, from Captain Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson” to the death of Osama bin Laden. His international reporting has taken him to every corner of the globe, even as remote as the Arctic. Nowadays, Peter’s beat is more local but by no means less challenging: the White House. As a national correspondent based in Washington, D.C., he’s covered the Obama and Trump administrations, and frequently reports from the White House itself. Peter took a short break from the news cycle to answer The Fatherly Questionnaire and talk about his daughters, ballet, and the one “dad meal” he can make.
What is your name?
Journalist. I’m a national correspondent for NBC News on the White House beat.
How old are your children?
I have two adorable girls. Ava is 4, and Emma is 2.
What are their names?
Ava and Emma.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Ava is Ava Starling Alexander, so her middle name is my wife’s maiden name. And Emma’s middle name is Pink, like the color, which is my mom’s maiden name. And the name Pink was going away, so it’s a big honor for me to help celebrate my mom’s side with that name.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your children?
Ava is Ava Bean. Emma we call Emmy or Emerson a bunch. There was a football player named Everson Walls that played for the Dallas Cowboys back in the day, and I always call her Emerson Walls. Usually I call them “Bean and Emmy.”
What do they call you?
They call me daddy. And if they think I’m not listening sufficiently, they call me Peter.
How often do you see them?
Every day. Usually, first on FaceTime from the booth at the White House, where we have breakfast together. I get there before they wake up for the Today Show. That’s our first conversation of the day. And then I see them each night for a couple of hours after they’ve had dinner and I come home, we have sort of a second family dinner. And then playtime, reading, and saying goodnight. Weekends, we make family time, just because so much of my week I’m somewhere else because of other responsibilities at work.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Loving. Silly. Positive.
Describe your father in three words.
Family comes first.
What would you say your strengths as a father are?
Making each of my kids realize how uniquely special and important each one of them are. There’s a lot of emphasis on love in our family. I try to dedicate real attention to each of them so they know they’re special.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I think my weakness as a father is sort of a function of time. I dare say the risk of not always being present and mindful, like allowing distractions, sometimes can get in the way. I’ve really put a big emphasis on when I’m home, putting my phone down and focusing on them so they see they have my undivided attention. I feel like time and attention are the best resources I have to give them.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children?
With Ava, it’s definitely dancing, remembering to point those toes. She’s big on ballet. I’m less graceful. My other favorite activity with Ava is I love being her teacher. She’s so excited to learn things, she’s going to start kindergarten soon. And after we visited one of the local public schools that she’ll likely go to, I came home and started putting addition and subtraction items on her paper and she just loved it and wanted to practice. I think that’s one of my favorite things to do with her because she just gets so excited about it, which is crazy and cool.
With Emma, she’s our Ronda Rousey. She likes to climb and jump on you and play. My favorite activity to do with her is to tell stories. Because Emma likes to make up stories and she uses a funny, silly voice, and she puts words together that don’t make sense but she totally entertains herself and entertains me in the process.
What has been the moment you are most proud of as a father?
This one’s easy. A few weeks ago I remember Emma was sick, and right now to try to get them to sleep through the night better, they have their own beds but they share Ava’s bed usually. Little sister likes to be with her big sister. And Emma was sick and after they finally looked like they were starting to fall asleep, I tiptoed out and then turned around and looked from the doorway. They didn’t know I was there, and I saw Ava look over at Emma, give her a kiss on the back of the head, and say, “I love you, Emmy.” That was probably the moment I was most proud of as a dad because I felt like I had really helped build these teammates. To witness that relationship between the two of them already be that strong is something I’m most proud of.
What heirloom did your father give to you if any?
My father gave me Cubs fanaticism. We are die-hard Cubs fans. Which was not always the easiest hand-me-down. There were many trying years. One of my proudest moments with him was getting tickets to Game 3 of the Cubs World Series back in Wrigley, the first World Series game back at Wrigley in decades, and sharing that experience with him.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children?
When Ava, my youngest, was handed to me by the doctor the day she was born, I remember looking at her and saying through tears, “I’m going to give you the best life I possibly can.” And to be honest, I don’t know if that’s any particular thing, I just hope it’s a ton of amazing family memories. Which is why I make a big effort to make photo books after trips and to set aside real time to do things together, so those memories stick around in a way that a particular item may not.
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner.
Let’s be clear, pretty much anything I’m eating is way more interesting than what they’re eating, so that counts as the Dad Special. The Dad Special that they love most is salmon. They’re big on salmon. They like a little salmon with tarragon and soy sauce. I’ll make it and I’ll be thrilled because I love it, and I’ll turn around and it’ll be wiped off my plate.
Are you religious, and are you raising your children in that tradition?
I’m Jewish, the girls go to a Jewish preschool. One of my favorite joys is sharing Shabbat with them on Friday nights. The girls light the candles and we sing the blessings together. My wife is not Jewish but is the world’s best mom and has totally embraced these traditions and I look forward to the girls being Bat Mitzvah’d one day. I love being together, and the girls love challah.
What’s a mistake you made growing up that you don’t want your kids to make?
Living inside my comfort zone. What I want for them both is to embrace challenges and new experiences. And to challenge themselves. Sometimes I was afraid to, and I hope they’re not. I work at the White House and I challenge the President with questions so it’s a little bizarre I would talk about being in a comfort zone. But sometimes when you’re a kid you can be more outgoing. I wasn’t the kid who was jumping off rocks at summer camp in Yosemite into the water. And although I’m not encouraging them to jump off rocks into a frigid lake, I want them to embrace other exhilarating experiences. The best part of being a dad is watching them embrace things that they love, whatever those things are. My oldest one’s thing is ballet. There’s a lot of Nutcracker on YouTube at our house. If she becomes a dancer one day, I’ll be in the front row every performance.
Besides saying it how do you let your children know that you love them?
A month ago, I introduced a new bedtime game where we go around the room after putting PJs on and brushing teeth and reading. I call it the “I Love You Game.” Everybody, me, my wife, and the girls, has to say something that they love about everybody. And it has to be a new thing every night. It’s not just saying, “I love you,” but it’s talking about things about them that you love. I’ll tell Emma how much I love when she giggles and she laughs and she makes funny voices. I’ll tell Ava how much I love how nice she was to a friend she was playing with, or how much she likes to read with me.
It’s about reinforcing the things about them that you love, as much as it is simply saying the words. When you become a dad, there’s no manual for this. You riff and make things up, and that was one of the things I just made up on a whim a week ago, and I love it. The best feeling now, is that if I forget, the girls say, “We have to play the I Love You Game, I’ve been thinking about it.”