What could be more dramatic than the story of a father and son swept nine miles out to sea, floating overnight together and then alone, uncertain of survival? In the November issue of Men’s Journal, Justin Heckert takes a rescue story and upstages it with the domestic lives of the survivors—lives he makes even more compelling than the movie-ready story that frames his piece.

Lost in the Waves” delivers up striking scenes right out of the gate. From a strong opening ( “The ocean at night is a terrible dream”), we soon shift to a daughter who is “thinking about how her dad had once told her he wanted his ashes scattered” and lying awake trying to remember where.

Heckert also comes across with the goods on survival at sea, with accounts of jellyfish, a rescue plane disappearing in the distance, and a terrible moment where father Walt pushes his panicking son Christopher away in an effort to save them both.

The article, however, takes a tricky approach to open up the story, expanding the narrative from Walt’s lived experience to slip in information from other sources. While Walt remains likable, the reader begins to wonder if he is in part responsible for what happened. His ex-wife certainly thinks so.

Christopher is autistic, and the difficult decisions that stymie every parent seem that much harder in the face of an uncommunicative child and a broken marriage. Yet Heckert conveys everyone’s perspective without losing the reader, and shows how Walt and Christopher were both battered by the waves of a complicated world long before they were swept to sea.

[See more photos from “Lost in the Waves” at John Loomis Photography.]

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