Measurement of a Man: Motors, Horse Power, Pipes and More

In order to understand the very disparate men in my life, I attempt to size them up employing their personal relationships with their cars.

My father is outdoorsy – a geologist by profession, although now retired. Nick a rock here. Gather a fossil there. He is a man’s man, but has never showed any affection for machinery. Although brought up to be a gentleman, engines and gears had a way of bringing out the inner savage. Some of my oldest memories involve my dad bent over some engine, cursing out the Industrial Age.

Dad would change tires on our VW camper vans when required, but would never have been one to fawn over chrome grill work or aftermarket center caps. He might pour some water in the radiator or dab Rust-oleum on oxidized patches on our van, but scrubbing up headlamps with toothbrushes or guiding Q-Tips around dashboard knobs were not affairs that occurred in our garage.

Then Again, my father-in-law is a car man through and through. I wouldn’t be stunned if he knew every make, model, and year of every vehicle that ever travelled the Pennsylvania turnpike. He is happy to spend a Saturday afternoon checking out cars at an Antique Car Club Show or scouring the whitewalls on his car.

He grew up in rural northern Pennsylvania and graduated rapidly from a teething ring to a pitchfork and pliers. Where he grew up, farm boys were required to learn everything they could about animal farming and mechanics. He has maintained his passion for gizmos, wheels, and motors, but has no interest in animals. He left the farm, never looking back, and went to college.

My husband is also a teacher; just like both of our dads, but that is the only thing they share. He doesn’t like to go camping, carefully cleaning his cars, or collecting rocks. He loves to pass his Saturday marking papers as he sips fancy coffee beverages at Starbucks.

He keeps his car full of fuel, but would probably use his Toyota center caps as paperweights on his desk, than as a fashionable way to pimp his ride. Not that he has anything against someone who toils over their center caps. He vacuums his vehicle bi-annually, but is satisfied to motor about town with “Wash me!” scribbled above his rusted bumper for a year at a time.

Our daughter’s boyfriend is just like my father in law, but a little more juiced. He got a high performance exhaust kit as a gift last month and has been excited ever since beyond his tailpipe growls deeply. You can tell that our daughter is in the throes of love when you hear her talk about how you can hear him approaching from a mile away.

It’s true that men and the relationships they have with their automobiles are complicated. It seems that their relationships can be an expression of some men’s masculinity, while other men handle their cars as an antagonist that’s a nuisance that must be conquered or endured.

Some men blaspheme their cars and some name them. Many men give their cars heaps of TLC while some campaign for bragging rights because their car has the highest mileage or is the ultimate beater. Men exchange car stories over beers, just like war tales are shared around a campfire.

Why else would the auto industry continually sell billions of dollars in decals, automobile alarms, hoods, tailpipes, center caps, dash accoutrements, fancy headlights, window tint, backup sensors, seat covers, rims, and chrome?

Whether the vehicle in the drive is fuel for cursing or cooing, I’m partial to suppose there’s some kind of mechanised mojo in there – something reminiscent to “If you build it, he will come.”