By Jeremy Helligar
Updated April 12, 1999 12:00 PM

When it comes to discussing his baby daughter, Today show weatherman Al Roker hardly puts up a cold front. In fact, Roker—whose wife, 20/20 correspondent Deborah Roberts, had their first child, Leila Ruth, last November—can’t shut up about the blessed event. “He comes in and tells us, ‘She was breast-fed how many times, I got to feed her, she slept well last night,’ ” says Roker’s friend, Today news anchor Ann Curry. “It’s 6 in the morning, and I’m getting the Leila Ruth Report!”

The preternaturally proud father remains unapologetic. “When I was a child I would see couples with children swapping stories about birthing, spitting up and where the best deal is to get Pampers and Huggies,” says Roker, 44. “You just want to go, ‘Shut up!’ Then you have your baby, and you know you’re boring, but you don’t care because it’s your baby, and everyone must be as fascinated.”

Obsessed is more like it. Since Leila’s arrival, Roker has taken the decidedly fanatical approach of documenting her every burp and gurgle in a journal on his Web site ( The March 15 entry: “Saturday, Leila had her first real food. She ate it. She ate all of it. And she had some applesauce to boot.”

His giddy behavior to the contrary, Roker is not new to parenting. His daughter Courtney, 11, from his previous marriage to Alice Roker, spends every other weekend and one month during the summer with him and Roberts in the couple’s three-bedroom New York City apartment. “There were times when we were the dueling girls,” says Roberts, 38, of her early stepmom days. “Sometimes I was feeling, ‘Why is Courtney getting her way? I want my way.’ And Courtney was doing the same thing. It’s not a piece of cake, but it’s a lot better than it was. Courtney and I have both matured.”

So far, life with Leila has been smoother. Before she began sleeping through the night, her early morning bawling fits conveniently coincided with Roker’s 4:30 a.m. wake-up time. Weekdays he’s at work by 5:45 a.m. and doesn’t return home until 1 p.m., which gives Roberts plenty of time to indulge Leila in Mommy’s favorite pastime: shopping. “Deborah has all the major designers on speed dial,” says Roker. “But now she’s not buying stuff for herself, she’s buying designer stuff for the baby. When Leila makes a mess, it’s just another excuse to try out the wardrobe.”

Although at first, having a baby was a mother load for Roberts. “The first month or so, there is this overwhelming sense of inadequacy,” she says. “You have this child, and you don’t know what you’re doing. I longed to go back to work because I wanted to do something I was familiar with.” Instead, she sought guidance from her more experienced friends. “I think Deborah, like every woman when she becomes pregnant, thinks, ‘Gosh, how is this going to affect my life, how is it going to affect my body?’ ” says Curry. “She was describing anxieties I went through, and I felt good that she could turn to me for advice and assurance.”

Once Roberts got the hang of it, she couldn’t pull herself away. Last February, she nearly cracked when she had to leave Leila and fly to Los Angeles to attend the NAACP Image Awards. “I was in tears the night before I left,” says Roberts. “That morning I was in tears, and I came back the next day. I caught the redeye. I couldn’t stand it.”

The last thing Roberts, a native of Perry, Ga., ever expected when she arrived at NBC’s Today as a correspondent in 1990 was falling in love with Roker, who grew up in Queens, N.Y. But soon after she arrived, Roker, who had been at NBC since 1983, invited her out for lunch. “Al was so sweet,” recalls Roberts. “He showed me pictures of his daughter and talked about his family.” But, she adds, “I just thought he was a nice guy, and that was that.”

The two kept in touch by e-mail for two years after Roberts was transferred to Today’s Miami bureau 10 months later, but following a stint in Atlanta, she returned to New York City in 1992 as a correspondent for Dateline NBC. She rekindled her friendship with Roker, who by then had split with his wife, and extended her social circle. “She was going out with all these stud muffins,” says Roker, turning to Roberts. “I wasn’t your type.” She concedes. “He was a nice guy but kind of annoying, overly chatty. I just didn’t think of him beyond a friend.”

But he soon went into romantic overdrive. While she covered the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona for NBC, Roker periodically checked in on her apartment. “Her refrigerator was appallingly sparse,” he says.”There was a jar of mustard, a bottle of champagne, some old cheese, and that was about it.” Roberts returned to flowers and a full fridge. “That was very touching,” she says. “It was like, what is this guy trying to do? It was a gradual thing after that. He would ask me out, and we would go to dinner or maybe lunch, but I was dating other people. Then one thing led to another.”

Still, by December of 1993, after nearly two years together, there was no wedding proposal. “Deborah was getting a little annoyed that it hadn’t happened over the holidays,” says Roker. “We had a chat, ‘So when will this happen?’ And I said, ‘Before Groundhog Day.’ ” He kept his word, proposing to her on New Year’s Day during a business trip to Arizona as they were staring off into the Grand Canyon. “I thought, what a great place,” he says. “On the rim of the Grand Canyon. And if she says, ‘No,’ one of us isn’t coming back.” They married the following year at Manhattan’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church, with Barbara Walters and Katie Couric among the guests.

Domestic bliss, however, hasn’t dulled the couple’s competitive tendencies. Roberts has been on ABC’s 20/20 since 1995. “Sometimes Deborah would substitute as host on ABC’s Good Morning America,” says Roker. “On those days I would come home and say, ‘Hey, sweetie, we crushed you like a bug again today.’ ”

But with Leila in the picture there’s more revelry than rivalry. “Every time I see Leila, I think of custard or velvety chocolate cake,” says Roberts, who returned to 20/20 last month while a nanny looks after Leila at home. Her husband’s assessment is more objective. “She’s got my hands,” he says. “And unfortunately, it looks like she’s got my thighs.”

Jeremy Helligar

Cynthia Wang in New York City