How To Be Happy With the Car You Drive

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The author with his first car, c. 1990

Every man dreams of driving a Lamborghini, Lotus, or Land Rover. Sometimes we think a new ride will make us more of a man. If the urge for a different set of wheels is a constant in your life, a change of perspective might be all that's needed to see your car in a new light.

Last month, my wife and I traded in what we'd been driving. It was a sporty, red, 2009 Pontiac Vibe, basically a rebadged Toyota Matrix. We loved that car, and it fit our needs for several years. But the time for change had come. In its place, we bought a Toyota Sienna. Yep, you heard right – minivan.

The swap was prompted by the fast-approaching birth of our third child. Our blessed addition is due this spring, and three kids equals a need for a kid-hauling vehicle.

I moped around for a week, thanking my lucky stars for the practical new wheels, yet feeling strangely middle-aged and dandruffy. A minivan was something I swore I'd never drive.

I imagined my face morphed onto Clark Griswold's in National Lampoon's Vacation. He was driving a wood-paneled station wagon back in 1983. But when Christy Brinkley pulled next to him in her Ferrari, you could see the insinuation: the men who drive what you drive only go to Walley World.

Then I got to thinking. From a certain perspective, a minivan is respectable. In fact, not only respectable, but cool. At my age, I'm no longer fast nor furious. I run in business-oriented author-circles, and I'm not trying to be elite street-racer/ ex-convict Dominic Toretto. Frankly, I don't have his abs.

So what's respectable about the minivan? It correctly fits the stage of life I'm in right now. A confident man knows who he is, and isn't trying to be anyone other than his authentic self.

That knowledge goes a long way toward a man feeling good about the vehicle he owns.

Consider the seven main vehicular stages of a man's life:

1. First Cars

A first car is a young man's ticket to freedom. It might be an absolute jalopy, but at least he isn't catching a ride to the fall dance anymore with his date in the backseat and his mother behind the wheel.

A first car is about more than dating freedom. It's the Gentile equivalent of a bar mitzvah, a coming-of-age mark of arrival. If you drive your own car, you're no longer a boy . . . you're a young man. First cars crank up responsibility. You buy your own gasoline. You learn how to fix a flat tire. You find a part-time job to pay for the insurance.

Ask any man about the first car he owned, and you'll always get a story. I bought my first car as a senior in high school. It was a 1972 Volvo 164E. I put surf racks on top, and when I headed off to college, I could get everything I owned either in it, or on it. It might have been a Volvo, but I rode with style.

2. Cars of Limited Responsibility

This stage does not mean a man is irresponsible. It means he's begun his first real job, has discretionary income, and has no one to support but himself. If he sinks a ton of cash or time into his vehicle, no one objects.

A man with limited responsibilities doesn't need to haul anyone anywhere. Maybe a girlfriend on a date. Or a buddy on a road trip. But there are no infant car seats. Only the top down and the open road.

I drove two different cars during this stage – a two-seater Honda CRX and, later, a Jeep Wrangler. Both great cars.

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