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Top Gear Philippines

Alpha Lane: How fatherhood changes a car guy

Last month, we brought home our second baby. As momentous an occasion as that is for any proud parent, I’ve also been reminded of several changes that happen to my motoring outlook, most especially when I’m trying to stay awake behind the wheel after another sleepless week.

You see, as much as I appreciate fine machinery like any of my friends who enthusiastically post their rides on Facebook, the simple truth is that when you’re tired and stressed out--when your husbandly duties have been reduced to buying and changing diapers--it’s hard to get excited about driving. Yet drive you must, because as any parent can attest, there are many trips to be done: baby’s regular checkups, those expensive shots, wifey’s visits to the ob-gyn, drugstore runs, trips to the in-laws...

Fact is, when you’re not trying to get some work done, you’re either changing diapers, carrying the baby to give the wife a breather, or driving the family around. Sleep becomes a luxury. Normal family meals? Not for a few weeks, buddy. Perhaps even for a few months, especially when you are part of the population that gets to experience that old adage, "Good (house) help is hard to find" (sigh).

But it’s all good. Since this is all something my lovely wife and I have gone through before, we’re more or less prepared for the experience, because really, it’s all worth it just to see your baby give you a precious smile when you’re dog-tired at 2am. Dare I say it, but fatherhood has given me a sense of maturity and practicality about cars that single folks will have a hard time appreciating.

If you don’t have a bun in the oven yet, enjoy the moment, because the moment the baby pops out, several things will happen to your motoring life, and I'd like to share them with you:

1. A notable concern for driving defensively. This is "lion protecting the lioness and the cub" behavior. Every vehicle surrounding you becomes a potential threat, your internal radar becomes hypersensitive to anyone getting too close, and you can’t wait to get to your destination to get your family out of harm’s way.

2. Turning into a safety freak. If you were cavalier about not having ABS or side airbags before, you’ll suddenly value these things like they were gold. This Fortress Mentality will be with you for as long as you see your kids as fragile creatures. If they made them available, you would strap the kids into four-point harnesses. This will be a source of bemusement to lolo and lola, both of whom grew up at a time when ABS was the stuff of sci-fi and seats didn’t even have headrests.

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3. Washable interiors are the best thing ever. Babies puke, and when they do, the smell is especially tough to get rid of in a fabric interior. This is where leather/leatherette upholstery becomes highly appreciated, and where plasticky cabins are actually better for dads with equilibrium-challenged infants. After all, dad has to clean up the damn car.

4. An appreciation for QUIET. I don’t care how nice my car’s sound system is. When I’m regularly subjected to an infant bawling in my ear while I’m desperately trying to get him to burp already, the solitude of a silent cabin is a simple luxury.

5. Big trunks are golden. Between a sports car with a tiny trunk and a family car with enough room for the stroller, the Moses basket, and several large gym bags, guess which one I’ll take.

6. You get to polish up on your driving technique. If you thought you were a smooth driver before, try driving your wife at your normal pace and you’ll quickly realize how choppy your driving style is. A sleep-deprived woman whose existence has been reduced to being a 24/7 breastfeeding station will feel every hump taken too quickly, every lane change done carelessly, and every stop done too abruptly. And she will eventually bite your head off if you don’t shape up. In fact, you’ll become such a smooth driver you will consider signing up for Uber...but that’s another column topic altogether.

7. When your infant can speak, your natural inclination to teach him/her the first few words will be vehicle types and brands. From "car," you will progress to specific brands like "BMW" and "Honda." When his kindergarten teacher writes you a note to help him practice his spelling, you will challenge him to take on the hard stuff like "Lamborghini" and "Chevrolet." He may not yet understand what a pronoun is, but he can recognize a Porsche 911 when he sees it. And you will be so proud of him when he does.

8. A sense of pride and relief when your child is big enough to sit in front of the car. Not only will you not have to strap him into the booster seat at the back (such a tedious exercise in hot or inclement weather), now you can also talk cars with him as you marvel at his latest growth surge. All car guys love to talk about cars with their Mini Me riding shotgun.

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9. A feeling of pride and trepidation when your child asks to steer the car. On the one hand, your child will think your car is the most awesome car in the world, hence his request to 'steer' while sitting on your lap within your subdivision. On the other hand, the safety freak in you will conjure all sorts of horrible images of destruction should something go wrong.

10. An increased empathy for pedestrians. After turning into a safety freak, you will suddenly realize the awesome potential of your vehicle to turn innocent civilians into mush. At pedestrian lanes, you will become especially considerate of daddies and mommies carrying their kids, pregnant women, senior citizens, high school kids coming home from school--practically everyone who must cross the street you are on. This thought will be hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles: "That person is somebody’s son, daughter, father or mother. Let him pass." You begin to understand that they just want to get to their destination safely, just like you.

11. Road rage becomes a 50/50 proposition. Sleep deprivation and other sources of parental stress will make you a prime candidate for road rage, or at least an embarrassing viral video of Dad Gone Loco. Only the thought of your family waiting for you at home will keep your temper in check. Never forget that.

12. Road trips become a helluva lot more complicated. But also a lot more fun. Road trips with the gang are relatively simple affairs. You pack your stuff, get in the car, and off you go. Once you turn into a family man, you will be amazed at the sheer volume of things that your wife and kids will insist they bring along. The passenger seat footwell (if your spouse is riding shotgun) will become a virtual cocoon of snacks, pillows, diapers and baby wipes. Loading and unloading everything from the cabin and trunk will qualify as a workout. Nonstop drives when you were childless become a thing of the past, as now you have to map out where to eat, where to take a leak, and where to stretch out.

13. You begin to seriously consider getting a minivan (or at least an SUV). And so begins the wussification of even the most diehard car guy. Thank God a few SUVs these days won’t make you look like you have absolutely surrendered to parenthood.

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14. Driving lessons will become a rite of passage. When my dad taught me how to drive, I remember being reduced to tears as I just couldn’t figure out the clutch. Then extreme happiness when I finally did. It was a great bonding experience. You will look forward to doing the same for your child many years down the road.

15. When all is said and done, you will seriously begin to pine for your own special car. There’s a reason sports cars have a reputation as midlife-crisis toys. This is about the time when a normal guy has finally paid for everything--the car(s), the house, the college tuition--and feels like he deserves a reward for all those years of hard work and sacrifice. I’m 36 years old, quite a few years away from becoming a cliché, but yeah, I’m at the point where the thought of having a mint Porsche 911 in the garage before I turn 40 is one of those things that cheer me up and motivate me. I imagine it would be a neat car to take the wifey out for Sunday breakfast with. At around the time the kids grow up really quickly, that’s about the time you can turn back into a kid again when it comes to cars.

Photos by Andy Leuterio


Alpha Lane: How fatherhood changes a car guy

Alpha Lane: How fatherhood changes a car guy

Andy Leuterio
Columnist
Andy has been writing about cars since the time everybody thought "16 valves" was cool. His idea of a brain cruncher is figuring out the firing order of an ancient V8, and he thinks automatics are the work of the devil.
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