Henricimo the boat-killer

In the fall of 2015 my Dad moved to Maryland. Over the year and a half he was here he grew more dependent on my sister and I and less like his former self. In the weeks since his death I’ve been mining memories, pictures, and his writing, to try to rebuild a bigger picture of who he was. Last night it occurred to me that it was time to “get my shit together” so I’d have something to say at his memorial. If I’d said these words to my dad, I know what he would have said because he said it whenever he heard this declaration from me… “You know what’ll happen when you finally get your shit together? You’ll have a bag of shit!”. Well, he was right. The results of my explorations have left me with many conflicting impressions: my dad as a dad, a sailor (with a sailor mouth to go with), a craftsman and artist, a jokester (He once glued a cat food label onto a can of corned beef hash that he took to work and ate for lunch). Here are a few of the snippets I uncovered:

In one of his files I found a meandering essay that he titled Mentors among the Demented. In it he wrote:

I cannot remember a time when my uncles Ed and Art recognized me, called me by name, or called attention to my existence. But Uncle Fritz let me sit with him while cleaning fish and talked with me. He showed me how to sand and varnish the hull of my 16ft sailboat, beat up, slow, out of date, and needing TLC. Fritz taught me how to make it a little faster. “Sand with the grain of the wood, no more than 10 inches at a time. Brush the varnish cross grain, then brush it out with the grain, make sure not to leave any bubbles in the finish. Overlap by an inch or two.”

He went on to write:

Today, one of my rudimentary definitions of a mentor is someone who remembers your name and calls you by it.

My Dad answered to many names. Most people called him Hank. His sister-in-law called him Henners. His brother often called him Hemroid. In 1981 he wrote me a letter and signed it, Henricimo the boat killer. There’s a story my grandparents used to tell about when he was really young and trying to answer someone who’d asked him his name. His unintelligible, high-speed reply of Henry Carl Borchardt was immortalized in the story as hickyhockyporkydorky. While I never heard anyone actually CALL my dad hickyhockyporkydorky I was surprised to find an entry in my grandmother’s journal describing my dad’s 5th birthday that said: “Hicky loved his presents” So, at least at one point — his mother called him Hicky! (a named I’m told he loathed). He also earned a new nickname after getting his doctorate when he reminded his administrative assistant that it was no longer MISTER Borchardt, it was “DOCTOR, dammit”. From then on she called him… Doctor Dammit.

A few days ago I booted up my dad’s computer — one he’d stopped using years ago — and discovered a log he kept after being diagnosed with a form of cancer. Here are a few entries from that log:

Oct 2001: Susie was here over the weekend. She and I went and gave the boat a bath, pulled the sails out, and put the whole works to bed for the winter. The weather was ideal: One of those sunny and 70’s experiences. The conversation was one of those I want to save & bottle.

No date: It is dangerous to call Dean the coolest little kid in the world, but he is. When Cindy and Dean were here it became a true zoo in the fun sense of the word.

Sometime in early November John died and Tracy asked me to do a memorial service. He being a secular person the memorial happened in the design studio at Ford. John was also a tactile person so I chose to concentrate on touching something he had made and describing what it meant. It was a mixed bag for me. I was in the middle of Chemo: weak and in pain, [but] being in the design studio with the drawings, clay models, prototypes, was like being to see God. I think the service was right.

I’ll leave you with this entry, dated Feb 2005: Theological reflection: What is meditation anyway? I have always thought of meditation as a waste of time, particularly if it is planned, or if somebody lays it on me, like a silence during worship. I look at my watch or clear my throat. Nuffa this. For me it sneaks up and hits me when not expecting it. [Like when I] went downtown to La Farge dock in downtown Detroit. [Tankers] in winter lay-up. The Zug Island Furnaces at sunrise. It was as close as I get to a religious experience. Or Driving on Hwy 322 along the creek either in the winter with snow on the trees or in the summer. I want to capture it, which words do not do, but art does. The place where finite and infinite come together and it just “is”. I won’t judge people who have to have a maze or a spiritual center as long as they don’t bitch when I fail to show up. I will stop more often and reflect on that merger, that God dimension like the Zug Island furnaces, the music in worship, the blue-white cold of sky, water and snow. Maybe we should call it “holy shit”.