After Papa Was Gone

After my father's death, the songs of nature and lazy Sundays were reminders of things unsaid.
Edwin And Modesto Father

The author with his father, Modesto, in Puerto Rico (Courtesy photo)

I could smell it in the charged air. Rain was about to come. The trees became agitated as the wind rolled vigorously through the persianas and into my room.

Sitting on the side of the bed, I waited for the deluge as the pummeling sound of raindrops over the grove and the orange tree became a gauzy serenade.

Inside, the house was silent. I suspected my mother was napping in a stuffed chair in the living room. 

I was staying in my childhood home in Puerto Rico during one of my trips back to the island from Arlington, where I have lived for over 25 years. My still-unpacked bag, shapeless from the humidity, sat atop an old teak dresser mildly scarred by termites.

On the opposite wall hung a framed composite of photos of my father—a gift I had created for him as a memento of his participation in an amateur video I made in 1999. I’d asked him to play a wood-carver in the film. I remember it as the first time I had taken a deeper, loving look at him. 

For the scene, I’d asked him to pretend to be an artisan carving a piece of wood, shaping it into a winged angel. I was surprised by how easily he took to the role. After we filmed the scene, we sat on the balcony and he resumed carving the angel. “I used to do this when I was younger,” he said, shaping the little figure with his pocketknife.

That small revelation made me realize how little I’d known of my father as a young man. It made me feel closer to him. It was a rare moment that, in later years, I often wished we could have replicated. If we had, maybe I wouldn’t have felt self-conscious about opening up to him and he, in turn, might have reciprocated. 

Perhaps it would have created a space where we could savor our moments together without old baggage—where I could have felt free to let him know I genuinely loved him.

Edwin Fontanez Photo Ra Sullivan 2

Arlington artist and author Edwin Fontánez (Photo by R.A. Sullivan)

Scanning the room, I noticed one of my mother’s rosaries hanging from a small hook. Next to it was a framed yellowed article with the clumsy headline: “Un Puertorriqueño en Virginia escribe historias para niños” (“A Puerto Rican in Virginia Writes Children’s Stories”).

The clipping included a picture of me hugging Ricky, one of my two cats. I was smiling while Ricky, ever-photogenic, looked at the camera with a dead-serious stare.

My eyes traveled across the frame of the missing door my mother had removed to keep closer tabs on my father during the night. I heard the rain subside, dripping to the ground and clinging to the shrubs outside. Behind the bedroom’s rusted metal closet doors were unused curtains, sheets and articles of clothing long forgotten. 

The delicate crucifix that had adorned the side of my father’s casket now hung in solitude next to the slatted window. Outside, the night sounds began to percolate—the song of the little coquí frog, lively chirps of crickets and the faint faraway barks of lonely dogs. I lay immobile on the uncomfortable bed where my father had taken his last breath, praying to the heavens for it to rain again.

It is with great nostalgia that I remember the moments, now long gone, when my father and I would sit together on Sunday afternoons, listening to the decades-old songs that underscored the soundtrack of his life. After his death, I mourned those lazy, hot summer days when the dry wind rolled over the pasture, carrying the static-laced melodies from our radio.

On the day of my father’s funeral, while helping to place his casket inside the hearse, I looked up to see a crush of heavy thunderclouds briskly overtaking the blue sky. My eyes brimmed with tears when I heard those melodies—the ones I had selected to honor Papa for one last time. It was one small thing I could do for him. To fill the air with the music that brought him so much joy in his happier days.

This essay was excerpted from One Last Song for My Father: A Son’s Memoir (2022), by Edwin Fontánez, an Arlington author, illustrator, designer, poet and winner of a 2017 International Latino Book Award for his young adult novel El Bosque Iluminado (The Illuminated Forest). His latest art installation, “River Island,” inspired by his acclaimed 2004 children’s book, On This Beautiful Island, was presented as part of the Kennedy Center’s RiverRun Festival from April 4-16. Learn more about the artist at

Related Stories:

Categories: People