Fun Stuff

The Ford Mustang Guide to Parenting

There is no choice, there is only an immutable law. Elsewhere, free will exists – the requirements of fatherhood and motherhood are loosened. Here, though, there is only the way. The way it has always been, for decades. The words of The Poet ring out like a bell, “Alright, stop. Collaborate and listen...”

Sorry, had to be done. As it is said: when in a white Mustang droptop, do as His Iceness would do. The next generation requires it. They must witness the spectacle of Mom or Dad spitting the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby” word-perfect, waxing any nearby chumps like, say, a candle. And then you laugh along with your little passengers, goose the throttle, and what’s today’s family activity? Rollin’, in our Five-Point-Oh.

Few cars are more kid-friendly than the Ford Mustang. To be fair, the Brampton-built Challenger has reasonable back seats too, but begs the question of why you didn’t buy the Charger instead. Chevrolet’s Camaro? A fine chassis and a few wonderful engine options, but the only way your kids are going to fit in the rear seats is if you have them lightly minced.

No, the Mustang is the merry-go-round pony car of choice if you’re looking to share a little automotive passion with your kids. It doesn’t have to be Miami-spec like this convertible – but certainly my kids had few complaints. Except, perhaps, about their dad’s rapping skills.

Ol’ Vanilla would barely recognize this car compared to his floppy-chassis open-topped Fox-body. Despite all the options, this Mustang convertible might share a great deal with a rental-spec version, but the powertrain is not to be sneezed at. Power is 460 hp with redline coming at a sky-high 7,500 rpm. In short bursts, it’s like a Tyrannosaur-themed roller coaster.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of Mustang-related adventures with my kids. A week or so after my first daughter was born, I drove around the city in a Boss 302, trying to track down the perfect first Hot Wheels for her.

Years later, we drove down together to Seattle in a Hunter Green Bullitt Mustang. We slept on a rented tugboat like we were TV detectives, and stopped in at the Le May – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. There, the hero car from Bullitt sat in a display showing the famous car chase, endlessly looped. She watched the screen, big-eyed and fascinated. I watched her.

A Ford Mustang makes a surprisingly good camping car. A Shelby version is the ideal way to arrive at a cars-and-coffee (even if Mustangs have a bit of a reputation for exiting those events in a safe and sane manner). There’s nothing that can touch the feeling of being on the homeward stretch of a long journey, that big V8 loping away contentedly, and looking back in the rearview to see two small figures asleep in their seats.

As a parent, you build these things up in your head. You plan them out weeks in advance, making lists of necessities, phoning friends, scheduling the route. The big gesture. The trip of a lifetime. Miles to go, seeking out the perfect moment.

But with this particular Mustang, there’d be none of that. It was a school week, with homework and extracurricular activities in the evenings. A busy weekend, with Girl Guides crafting days, the kids worn out by the late afternoon. Travel restricted by a pandemic that has stretched on, and on, and on.

All we had was an automatic transmission, a folding roof, a V8, and the musical pinnacle of Matthew Van Winkle’s career. That and the daily school drop-off. But it was enough. In fact, it was everything.

It wasn’t that the car was perfect. The Mustang is heavy, more muscle car than pony car these days, especially in convertible form. The 10-speed automatic is fine, but the manual’s the engaging choice. If you’re a performance enthusiast, you’re probably still going to want the coupe.

Yet parenthood can feel like a constant attempt to achieve and then preserve perfection. We do it with our ever-present phones, grabbing pictures, trying to capture the moment. We make the big, lavish plans as a way to feel in control. Here, we tell our children, here is the gift of happiness. We’ve worked hard to make it happen for you.

And that’s just... all wrong. The truly happy moments are the ones you don’t expect and can’t capture. The ones you’ll forget, or they’ll forget; fleeting little instances. Top down on the highway, kids laughing as the wind whips their hair. Even if I could safely have taken a picture then, it’d just get lost in the thousands of other photos that I take all year long.

One of the other fathers at my kids’ school has a Mustang. It’s a burgundy-coloured previous-generation 5.0L, and sees regular shuttle duty service. I’m sure, for that boy, the Mustang is just Dad’s Car. But maybe it’s something just a little bit special about the daily ritual, something different from the sea of grey and white that fills the rest of the drop-off lineup.

The beauty of a Ford Mustang, apart from perhaps the really heavy firepower versions, is that they are and always have been an everyday car. It’s why you overlook the shortcuts taken on interior quality, the rental car roots. Maybe it’s not a V8, maybe it’s just a four-cylinder turbo with a couple of stripes. Maybe it’s a soft, top-down cruiser without the sport options.

And maybe it’s not about the car at all, but about the intentional nature of the experience. Dropping the top on that white convertible Mustang made me pay attention to what was happening in the moment. Perhaps it’s not practical to pay attention to the daily routine all of the time, but it’s worth doing when you can. How we are living will have been our lives.

Before dropping the Vanilla Ice Special back, I took it out to shoot some pictures with my youngest. I showed her how to compose the shot, squeeze the shutter to focus. She’s a quick study – some of the photos here are hers, and it might not be entirely obvious which. A small lesson. A moment of togetherness.

This what you’ll eventually miss. Not the peaks and not the troughs, but the way having children fills up your life. If you’re there for them, engaged, interested, maybe you’ve got a shot at remembering. Not the specifics, but that feeling of fullness.

The time won’t last. Every golden era, by definition, has an end. A happy end, hopefully, with you having done your duty and launched a life into the world. But an end nonetheless, the most fulfilling time in your life, as fleeting as a summer.

Which is why it wasn’t a choice. Had to be done. Flow like a harpoon, daily and nightly. The kids laughing at the joke they didn’t quite get. The V8 thundering up an on-ramp. Every five minutes, the kindergartner demanding that we, quote, “Launch it!” Waving at the dogs on our street.

The tumbling happiness of everyday living with children, mixed up with all the work of it; joy and worry and exhaustion in equal measure. You wish you could freeze it for just a moment, a fragment that you could hold on to forever.

And you can’t. But you can Ice it.

Word to your mothers.