Piloting the Father Ship

By Gregory Keer

My friend Bruce is a guy’s guy. He works as a structural engineer, designing such manly things as football stadiums. He’s got a rugged British accent, which obviously helped snag his lovely wife Kathleen. And his sons, with the masculine monikers of Jack and Ben, share his interest in sports cars (though they play with the Matchbox variety).

Speaking of which, Bruce just purchased an Infiniti with tons of horsepower and nimble handling—perfect for this seeming kinsman of James Bond. “How ‘bout a spin,” he asked before taking me on a high-speed test drive. I admit the ride was a rush and the aerodynamic body belonged on a pinup calendar.

Despite the heavy-metal appeal of this mighty machine, my thoughts were on acquiring a different sort of vehicle—a minivan. When I confessed this to Bruce, he nobly hid his disappointment in me, saying, “Minivans are very…practical.” What he really meant to say was, “You wuss! You might as well just turn your gonads in at the dealership!”

For this sacrilege, I have probably lost my membership in the boy’s club.  As if my crying at romantic comedies, passion for fruit-flavored cocktails, and partiality for the color purple were not enough, my lust for a minivan is an unforgivable sin against the brotherhood of middle-aged men.

After all, what kind of man yearns for an automobile traditionally driven by soccer moms? What sort of guy pines to pull up at fine restaurants in a glorified delivery truck? What manner of male swoons over ample storage capacity and 15 cupholders?

To make matters worse, my wife, Wendy, expressed concern about my testosterone levels when I first admitted my obsession. “I don’t even want to drive it, and I’m a girl!” she stated. She further reasoned that she “wasn’t ready to give in to the whole suburbia image.” She was afraid of becoming the very stereotype she scorned in her pre-motherhood days.

But I was undeterred. I felt like the little boy who liked to play with dolls in that ‘70s show, Free to Be You and Me. Social status be damned, I wanted my minivan. For me, the car symbolized my willing acceptance of fatherhood. And my kids, the true judges of proper travel at this point in my life, thrilled at the prospect of a seven-passenger marvel. Every time we passed one of the countless minivans in our community, Benjamin would offer his take, “I like that one Daddy. It looks big enough for us” or “That color isn’t right. Let’s get blue.” With all this support, I began to dream of being the captain of something fairly unique—a Father Ship.

As sci-fi movies have taught us, the “Mother Ship” is the lead space cruiser of most alien species. It’s what E.T. returned to, finding comfort in its womb and its promise of returning home. While I don’t exactly desire a womb (I’m not that evolved!), I do like the idea of blending the “Mother Ship” concept with that of Captain Kirk, the macho leader of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise. Thus, I imagined myself the captain of a Father Ship that would lead my children on adventures in kindergarten, tee-ball, and the all-important road trips.

Still, Wendy needed something more convincing than science fiction. So I took her to the dealer to convince her that my minivan of choice was not only practical but masculine, when painted midnight blue. She test drove the car and found herself surprised at the handling and quickness. She also appreciated the passenger and storage space, the price of the soon-to-be discontinued model, and—the coup de grace—remote-controlled sliding side doors. Upon seeing the fold-down third row seats, I whispered the final reminder that my gonads need not be turned in: “Honey, we have plenty of space back here if we want to work on that third child.”

My current children are enthralled. From his carseat, Jacob kicks his legs all he wants without banging on the seat in front of him and luxuriates in his personal air-conditioning vent. Benjamin chooses the “way back” where he feels like the big boy, especially when he has buddies sitting back there with him. He’s also a master at demonstrating the features of the minivan, particularly the accident sensors in the side doors: “This part is so cool. You won’t even smash your fingers,” he tells friends, young and old.

This ultimate family cruiser intrigues many of my friends, from the sports-car dads to the SUV moms. I’m pleased to have won their acceptance, but I did this for the good of my “crew.” I have my Doctor (Wendy, who is prone to say, “Damn it, Gregg, I’m a Ph.D., not a miracle worker!”), my Spock (at five, Benjamin is more logical than I), and my Scotty (at two, Jacob is often as unintelligible but good-hearted as that famous engineer). With them, I explore the frontier of parenthood in a Father Ship and boldly go where few men have gone before! Wendy just has to make sure she’s not in the van when I’m wearing the gold and black jumpsuit.

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