Master & Commander

Women have always been a mysterious entity to us men. Always. How you ladies think, what’s important to you, your sense of order and discipline, your willingness to express yourselves, your moods and fancies, your brains and your beauty… all of it. Mysterious.

We know we’ll never understand you, I mean really understand you, and that’s okay with us. We also know that you understand us, that we’re easy, and in that, very manipulatable. Well of course! We get downright stupid when it comes to women. Foolishly, painfully stupid.

But wait! Are we men actually so dense, so shallow? I mean, aside from how many of us act around you? I say no, no we’re not. Matter of fact, I think that perhaps you women still don’t understand us, either. Not that we could tell you… most of us don’t have a clue as to what drives us, aside from family, wealth, friendship and fun. Yes, we love our cars and our fishing trips and our sports and our backyard cookouts, yes, yes to all that. And admittedly our concept of time spent enjoying ourselves seems almost childish and oversimplified at times. But that’s not our whole story, ladies. That’s who we’ve been groomed to become by our culture since WWII.

“Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” ~Viktor Frankl

I should point out that the men I’m writing about here are not the well-groomed, slick, business type who always dresses tastefully and always says the right thing at cocktail parties. No. My men have rough edges, a little dirt under the fingernails, perhaps a few barely-noticeable callouses on the hands, hair not perfect, the same old shirt again today and at times a faraway look in the eyes. You know the type. And no, I’m not making a clumsy attempt at mansplaining our differences, just trying to get to the bottom of a few thoughts.

There is more to us, far more, than meets the eye. I have known this, in a few rare moments, of a vague and fleeting feeling trying to reach me, trying to rise up into my conscious mind, to remind me of who I truly am, who I long to become. It can be powerful at times, then it’s gone, just as quickly. I have wanted to write about it, to try to explain it, to try to put a male face on it, but up until now, I just have not been able to. Then I read this article in Google by Gabriella Paiella, and my 20-watt bulb instantly lit. This was it! This is what I’d been feeling all along, this is what so many of us men quietly (and a few not so quietly) deal with!

Gabriella’s article describes how men have seemingly rediscovered the twenty year-old movie, Master And Commander, starring Russell Crowe. Her writing below tells of some men’s response to the movie, why it touches a deeper place in them, and why that is meaningful. I have additional thoughts to hers, which I’ll share after you read hers. I asked her permission to use parts of her article and she graciously gave it to me. Here it is –

By Gabriella Paiella
March 8, 2023

Grossman pointed to the friendship crisis among American men. “When you’re in your thirties, you’re looking for this sort of community. This is the age when settling down starts to happen,” he said. “Friends start to drop off and you have to take more active steps to find a community of male friends, and more guys report loneliness. I guess seeing that rich community strikes some as, ‘yeah, that’s what I want—just to be on a ship with 150 other guys.’”

“You’ve got a bromance for the ages in Aubrey and Maturin,” Menaker said. (Speaking of the captain and his mate.ed) “They’re just fucking buds and they play their violins together as they’re traversing the Cape of Horn. It’s awesome.” Writer David Grossman told me that Master and Commander is “a deeply felt vision of non-toxic masculinity,” while Alex Yablon pointed to it as “a portrait of healthy homosociality.” Even director Taika Waititi once called it his favorite romance movie.

Despite any surface-level irony, everyone I talked to adopted a tone of reverence and awe when speaking about the movie. They would get a misty, far-away sound in their voice, almost as if they were on the bow of a ship, gazing out over the open ocean, ponytail flapping in the breeze.

Nando Vila, the head of studio at Exile Content Studio, told me, “I think why a lot of guys are liking it now is because Aubrey is so charming and swashbuckling and swaggery. You believe that all those sailors are into Lucky Jack (the captain.ed) and they’ll follow him to the far side of the world. You don’t see that kind of brawny, ‘We’re just going to fucking go to the far side of the world. Who’s with me?’—that’s not a movie that gets made anymore.”

Yablon speaking: “For me, personally, there’s a lot of stuff that I have gotten into as I have accepted that I’m in my mid-thirties, that I’m a dad, that I’m boring now. I do boring shit, I read boring history books, and I mostly am pretty fine with that. I’m okay with being a little bit of a goofy, boring dad,” Yablon told me. “And I think that the way of sheepishly admitting that and kind of making fun of that a little bit is by being into such a cliché dad thing: naval adventure stories.”


I’m so glad she wrote that article, for it lit my fire for what I think men used to be. See, I loved Master & Commander too, saw it three times but never connected myself with it. Strange too, because as a younger man I secretly longed to be Gregory Peck when he played Captain Horatio Hornblower. But then I love all swashbuckling movies, and there’s a good reason for that, thank you Gabrielle. Deep in our heart of hearts, many of us men wish to be REAL MEN. You know, those men of olden times who were afraid of nothing, who were adventurous, spontaneous, romantic and, and…smart! Yeah, that’s right, smart! They made (mostly) good choices, fought through storm and strife and difficulties that we wouldn’t dream of facing, let alone defeating today. And beside all that, they were chivalrous! Remember chivalry, guys? Hm. I love that line from Gabriella’s article, “You believe that all those sailors are into Lucky Jack and they’ll follow him to the far side of the world. You don’t see that kind of brawny, ‘We’re just going to fucking go to the far side of the world. Who’s with me?’—that’s not a movie that gets made anymore.”

That says so much, and not only is it not a movie that gets made anymore, but I would add, that’s also not an emotion that is even held anymore, not a thing that is said anymore. However, I have felt “that man” inside me occasionally, that man who stands in front of his ship amid the storm and shouts, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Yeah, that guy. You see, he’s in there somewhere, he’s in there in all men, I think… buried in myriad levels of genetic diluting over the centuries.

Who I sometimes longed to be #1

Who I sometimes longed to be #2

Who I really was –

If you’re thinking, “Oh god, here’s another one with delusions of grandeur,” sorry. I know what the symptoms are, and this ain’t it. It’s easy, of course, to dream up or imagine ourselves doing brave, heroic things we know, in our heart of hearts we would never do. No, this feeling is a lot different. It’s more of a ‘who we wish we were,” rather than a “what we wish we could do” kind of feeling.

I have to be clear here… it’s not like men aren’t courageous today, daring or adventurous today. They still are, of course. And perhaps they’re responding to that deep-seated feeling of freedom to do outrageous things, conquer outrageous worlds, because we’re men, and we can, goddamnit!

When B and I rode the cable car up the side of Mont Blanc in France a few years back, we saw people hiking where no person should be, and across the valley on the other mountain range, we saw people paragliding high over the village of Chamonix. It all looked crazy dangerous to us.

But where does that put the rest of us, those of us who never did, perhaps never could respond to those deep-seated, driving forces of conquering places, feelings, and fear? In truth, I’d bet that most of us guys have, from time to time, met and conquered a challenge of the moment with courage and some of that inner stuff that we’re made of. Because it’s in there, whether you can see it, feel it, even recognize it… it’s in there. I know. A few times in my life I’ve responded to it and acted, and afterward there was always this quiet, heady feeling of freedom, of understanding who and what I am, along with a deep and abiding sense of accomplishing what I might have been put here to do all along.

My dad, Guy Hulse, who was the real deal. He quietly knew it, he lived it, and he showed me who and what a real man is, at least one hundred times.

I almost stopped working on this article… twice. There’s more to it than I can articulate, it goes far deeper psychologically than I’m able to. Hell, I know it needs to be explained better than this. There are other connecting implications that I’m neither prepared for nor qualified to approach. Some men have told me they’re sure they were born at the wrong time, that they feel misplaced in their present place in life. I think there’s something to that, as those men don’t relate to Tom Cruise the way they relate to Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Even the lone cowboys who ride off into the sunset stir something in some of us. Like I said, this is as far as I can take it.

There are leaders among us, and there are followers. I’ve been both, and can speak to the challenges of leadership. Any time a person steps into an unfamiliar leadership role and pulls it off, that seems to indicate that that person is comfortable with challenges, or willing to accept those challenges and succeed, or to at least do their best. Bravado is a fleeting emotion, while courage, even integrity, comes from a much deeper place. And that’s the place I’m talking about.

I’m not saying that women don’t fulfill those same functions in the same way. No. What I’m saying is that women tend to handle challenges of leadership in intellectual ways, while we tend to handle them from “that place.” As far as I know, we men don’t intellectualize a situation and think, “Can I handle this? What are the pitfalls? How can I succeed?” Rather, many of us “know” we can handle this, let’s do it. A favorite line of ours from at least the last 80 years, when we’re taking on almost any kind of challenge for the first time is, “Well, here goes nothing.”

And then there is the thought that some of us never really grew up. Dragging our childhood dreams into our adulthood might help explain some of these feelings, some of our actions. I don’t intend to speculate on any of that, as I’ve been accused of not growing up by several people. First, I say that’s utter bullshit. Second, I say they should step forward, admit who they are and meet me in the park at dawn, with sabres.

I feel it’s possible that this “deeper inner real man” blurts out of us at times in strange, occasionally inappropriate ways. It’s like a Yellowstone geyser, it pops out, or blows when often least expected, and usually appears totally out of character. Probably we won’t ever completely understand our inner man, and in that, will never be able to totally control it when it demands to show itself. Does this mean that those heroic men of old did understand this deeper manhood, that they understood it and controlled it? … Maybe. But he had always been an aggressive, protective and reactive species who had never necessarily understood why he was doing a thing… he simply did it, then went to his favorite pub, tossed back a few with his buds, and let someone else try to analyze it.  My kind of dude.

So, women… you’re complicated and mysterious. Men…  we’re simple and shallow. Not so fast there, cowgirl. Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to us than meets the eye. Be careful, milady, not to take too much for granted. Because every once in awhile…

Steve Hulse

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