Nobody has, but if somebody asked me what sort of person my father was, I would say he was an incredibly bright achiever. Dave Simpson was the only one of the fourteen children in his family to attend and graduate from college. He was by nature a problem solver who had the ability to design large systems and make them work properly. These gifts were particularly well-suited for a guy who designed, built and supervised production lines and factories all over the country.
Dad was a “brooder,” a fellow who got into his inner world and stayed there while he thought. Once he began to obsess about something, he did not like to be interrupted. We lived close to the Riverside Drive-In in Norman, Oklahoma, when I was a child and our regular Wednesday night outing was a family trip to the movies ($1 per car!). More than once my parents, my sister and I would be sitting in our ’52 Chevy watching the show and Dad would get out and just start walking home. He was thinking something over and the movie was distracting him. I think his love of escaping into his inner self was part of the reason he most liked dark paintings, portraits, charcoals and other art that invited introspection. Accordingly, the music he most loved was instrumental.
As one of nine boys, Dad grew up competing and he naturally wanted to make a contest of life’s activities whenever possible. For that reason he loved golf, cards, chess, basketball and fishing. The minute we got to any fishing hole, Dad would immediately challenge you to his famous three way bet: “Okay, the first, the biggest and the most fish.” We were never betting for anything but bragging rights.
Dad was not a talker and was not eloquent—sort of strange considering he was an attorney. He spoke when necessary and sometimes not even then. We took long drives when I was a kid. Periodically, after three or four hours in the car, my sister or I would feel the need to use the restroom. We would announce this from the backseat. Dad would show no sign of having heard us at all. As we would pass through the little towns that dotted the countryside, we would hope Dad was going to stop and guess when and where that would be—but we dare not ask or we’d get an angry: “I heard you the first time!”
Hard as it is to believe, Dave Simpson was really a messy sort of guy. I remember driving out to my folks’ farm a few years ago and parking beside his old Honda Civic. The inside of his car was littered with junk: papers, tracts, empty drink cups, newspapers and assorted other flotsam. I thought, “If only my friends could see Dad’s car, then they’d understand my study!”
As he aged, my father changed and mellowed. He quit wanting to argue with me about the politics and religion, and quit trying to give life advice to his grandchildren. He found lots of joy in activities like caring for livestock, planting trees, gathering pecans and visiting with the people he loved. In the last few years, as his struggle with dementia worsened, when he struggled to express the depth of what he was thinking and feeling, Dad wept a lot. It seemed the emotions of a lifetime at last were irresistibly bubbling forth.
Last May I traveled to Oklahoma from North Carolina to help my mother put Dad in a nursing home. His needs had simply exceeded her ability to cope. My sister and I had grown concerned that she would destroy her health trying to keep Dad at home. Within a month, his health deteriorated to the point that we placed him under hospice care. The oversight and tender daily visits of my mother contributed to his living for almost exactly a year in care. Dad died on May 5. When the tears subsided, there was long-awaited peace for all of us.