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What Moves a Man to Go Minivan?

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Forget about premature balding or a dating-age daughter -- few things terrify most married men more than the idea of getting a minivan. It just says so much about the changes that mark the end of bachelorhood and the inevitable realization that there is no going back. I have a friend who, when finally forced to lease one of these dreaded machines, chose a vanity license plate that read "caved."

Like many clichés, when you really get down to it, there is much pleasure to be had amidst the embarrassment and angst. That's what makes the right-of-passage so torturous. The sinful convenience of a dozen cup holders and automatic doors (providing huge swaths of access for strollers, car seats, full-sized pets, soccer equipment and more) can be intoxicating. Throw in a ceiling mounted DVD player, captain's chairs, even an optional fridge and you are talking the last temptation of Christ. Many good men have tied to resist and ultimately, well, caved.

I have a number of friends who have skirted the issue by driving a (manly) SUV or even a sport wagon. They have cargo space, headroom, sometimes even a third row of seats. They have programmed themselves to believe that all the benefits of a big car are already theirs. I too was one of them -- living the lie. A member of their elite SUV club. Then came the birth of my second child -- a seminal moment in the minivan "cycle". The old car was just not big enough to handle two car seats. Excess cargo space was a thing of the past. "Just think about it," my wife coaxed. It would be so easy.

Good friends had recently had a third child (three is the new two, after all) and, despite ample resources and a public reputation, had jumped head first into a Toyota that they drove everywhere including black tie parties. I had grabbed a ride from them and jokingly brought 24 drinks of different sizes in an attempt to quantify how many cup holders they really had. I counted 16.

While still fighting the idea, I encountered the new VW minivan at the New York Auto Show and it reminded me of a high powered VW van we had rented in Austria. That wouldn't be so bad, I mused. Soon I was at the VW dealership with my wife and son walking the lot. My son, who was only one and a half, loves cars even more than I do and tried the door handle of every vehicle on the lot hoping to ride. My wife was unconvinced though. "Too fancy," she decided. Let's get something really functional.

Horrifyingly, I was soon at a Honda dealership looking at bottom of the line Odysseys. "Isn't there an Acura or Lexus version I asked?" Apparently not. I was learning the ins and outs of the arcane letter combinations that seem to mean everything at a dealership. How was the "LX" different than the "GX"? Which had the digital climate controls and the wireless headphones for DVDs? What was next? Little League coaching followed by a subscription to AARP? What if one of my friends happened to drive by and see me on the lot clicking open sliding doors? The shame!

Soon we were signing papers on a stripped-down white model with cloth seats. I hadn't had cloth seats since just after college. A mountain of paperwork, a complimentary car wash, and a balloon for my son were soon behind us and we were driving away with our minivan. You would think I had just bought my wife an Aston Martin the way she oohed and aahed over it. Soon she was driving it everywhere and anywhere we went together, even without kids, she insisted we take the van. She actually finds it much more comfortable than her new German SUV. Her parents came to see it, her sisters test drove it. There was no turning back.

As for me, I am doing group work to accept that which I cannot change. The door on the minivan barn has been opened and there is no getting the horse back in. While I still imagine I am driving something smaller from Northern Italy every time I get behind the wheel, I will admit that it swallows up our whole family and all our detritus and gets us where we need to go comfortably and easily in a way that no other vehicle could. We already are talking about what we might get in the next one. Swiveling chairs, TVs behind the headrests, and possibly a fridge are on that list. The unthinkable has happened. While I am pleased I have avoided premature balding, I know how I must look behind the wheel. I have become "that guy." I have caved.

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