I come from a very unusual family. My mother was born in the early 60s and my father was born in 1924. My family is unconventional in every way. My father fought in WWII and survived the Great Depression. Each evening, surrounding the dinner table, my siblings and I would hear countless stories about the jungles of Burma, the K.P. duties he hated, and his times flying through the Himalayas, “Where God lives,” as he used to say. We could always finish my father’s stories, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s, when I truly appreciated them.
I have difficulty explaining what it was like to have a father that was older than my mom’s parents and different than all the other dads. Yes, he ran a marathon at 63, but he developed Parkinson’s before I turned 20 and passed away in November 2012 from complications of a stroke and pneumonia. I didn’t have my father very long or as long as I would have liked. No matter how long we have our parents, it’s never enough. He taught me to take advantage of every minute on earth and to “get something accomplished every day.”
I remember my last phone conversation with my father in September 2011. I had just moved into a new apartment on the Upper East Side and was excited to tell my father about it. I don’t remember specifically what we talked about, but I remember it being one of the best conversations we ever had. For once, he listened, rather than interrupting with another story to imbue upon me. After that last talk, my father had a stroke, or a series of them, a week later, combined with pneumonia. He fought in the ICU for months, then in rehab, and finally returned home in February of 2012. The doctors and nurses told us he wouldn’t be home for more than a few weeks until he was back in the hospital. But my father proved them wrong. He stayed with us until November 10, 2012, when he passed away quietly and peacefully, with a smile on his face in his bed with my mother by his side.
My father’s last year alive was the best and worst year I could imagine. I would say he fought to be with us, but he didn’t. He wanted to be there. He couldn’t speak, move or eat, but my family developed a system of spelling out words on a board (which took hours) until we could figure out what my father wanted. He even told a new story about a bear showing up at his mother’s house in New Haven. Hard to believe now that bears could be anywhere near there, but he was a child when horses and carriages and trolley cars were still commonplace.
It’s ironic that I feel like I learned the most about my father (and vice versa) in his last year alive. Every second with him mattered. I have fond memories sitting next to him in silence on the back deck, listening to the birds, getting some sun, just being there with him. Gold Star was born from the frustration in wanting to get to know someone when you fear it’s too late, and yet, still not being able to get out of your own way and accept the end of a life. The character I based on myself, Vicki, is not open or close with her father in the beginning of the film. Her relationship with her dad is not as strong as mine was, and his inability to speak tests her need for closure.
When I wrote Gold Star, I was by my father’s side in the hospital, or sitting in my apartment, mourning the loss of the man I knew, or thought I knew. I hope and know that many people can relate to loss, to not being able to say goodbye, not wanting to, to being in denial, to the lack of a clean ending, and the sense of loss and fear in accepting that you’ll never really know your parents. Gold Star is about acceptance and becoming an adult separate from who you thought you were and who your parents wanted you to be.