I am a guy. I own a minivan. I want to you to know that these two sentences are not mutually exclusive. A guy can own a minivan, and still be a guy.
If you were to believe Madison Ave., however, nothing could be farther from the truth. In the eyes of the ad agencies, men owning minivans, and admitting they do so, is as incongruous as a vegetarian admitting to loving a Big Mac, or Ariel Sharon admitting he is the head of the local chapter of the Yasser Arafat fan club. It just isn't done.
The result is a series of attacks, dare I say, on the idea of minivan ownership as a meaningful reflection of the male identity. In other words, any guy who drives a minivan is, as a friend once put it, a complete loser and a wimp to boot.
Examine the evidence.
A few years ago, an ad for a truck company (driving trucks is, as we all know, extremely manly just climbing behind the wheel of a Ford pickup lowers your voice an octave) featured a gym full of "buff" guys, pumping iron and sweating at each other. A voice comes over the loud speaker ... "Will the owner of the tan minivan please go to the parking lot, you left your lights on."
All the manly men scan the room as if they were a unit of Green Berets who had just been told Osama bin Laden was in their midst. The camera pans and settles on a hapless soul doing curls, who looks like he was just accused of dropping grandmothers from a helicopter. The message of the ad? No real man would be caught dead driving a minivan, and any man who does drive one must do so only under an assumed name, in the dead of night, in the worst part of town.
Then there's the recent commercial which shows a young fellow who dies suddenly and finds himself driving in a very "hot" car with, well, the devil. They talk about how boss the car is, and the young guy asks if he can get behind the wheel. No way, says the devil, it is hell after all. Suddenly the young man finds himself in, you guessed it, a minvan. Once again, the message is simple. Hell on earth is driving a minivan.
You want to talk about hell? I'll tell you about hell. Several years ago, my wife, my mother and I drove from Nova Scotia to Boston with my then-3-month-old son, Liam, in a two-door sedan. Liam cried at the top of his lungs from Bangor to Boston. I would have gladly traded places with a man staked to an anthill in the Sahara that day.
Like Paul struck down on the road to Damascus, I knew that my life needed to be different. And better. So as soon as I could, I bought a minivan, a Toyota Previa.
My children gave it a name, Herbie, after Disney's "Love Bug." Herbie just hit the 150,000-mile mark. He's still tough as nails, probably can do another couple of trips around the planet and his engine sounds a good as the first day I bought it. I've twice bumped him into walls, the kids have spilled everything from Kool-Aid to cranberry juice on his interior, and he needs to be vacuumed in the worst way. But Herbie never complains. He's the strong and silent type. In other words, a real man ... I mean, car.
There may be a time in your life when driving a Porsche or a TransAm or a Mustang seems neccessary in order to make a visual statement about your testosterone levels. There will be others who will not accept their destinies, and will try to escape into shallow substitutes, such as SUVs, the Fantasy Island of the roadway. SUV drivers brag they could drive into Death Valley or across the top of Mount Washington at a moment's notice, but won't admit they only use the car to visit the drive-though ATM of their local bank.
But the day will come when every man will know that he needs a minivan, if he is indeed a real man. Because ultimately every guy comes to the realization that being comfortable, having lots of room, and being far enough away from the back seat so that your child cannot hit you in the head with a McDonald's Happy Meal toy is worth any price.
So do not fight the urge. It is a perfectly natural thing to want to own a minivan. It is, as another pro-minivan commercial put it, the ultimate sign of male virility.
Minivans are forever. And, after all, how many of us really need to work out in a gym?