Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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The Man, The Myth, The Legend: My Father

A hero can be defined as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”  When I hear this definition I cannot help but pair it with my father.  Throughout my life there has always been one person I viewed higher than all the others.  This man lives his life for one reason: to support his family until the day he dies.  He hasn’t complained a day in his life and has made countless sacrifices to get this essential job done.  Dreams of professional sports were put on hold and eventually forgotten due to this immense responsibility of supporting a family.  When I asked him if he had any regrets for not pursuing these goals in the sports world, he simply responded, “Not at all, my family needed me.  If I had to do it all over, I would have made the same decision.”

As a teenager and a son of three, Richard Tortorice excelled in the sports world.  Touchdowns, home runs, and goals filled my father’s life since the early age of six, when he picked up his first ball.  When I asked my Uncle Joe about my father as a teen he replied, “He was always referred to as the athletic one.  Winning was part of his life.  It was one thing he truly knew how to do.”  I always knew my father was athletic in every sport imaginable, but to hear the respect in my uncle’s voice was a truly amazing occurrence.  Ever since I can remember, my Uncle Joe and my father would always compete at things.  Now this may seem like the typical cliché brotherly competition, but this wasn’t the case.  The two grown men would compete in things from who could hit the furthest baseball or who could get to grandma’s house the fastest.  Being the best came natural to my father.  Another aspect of my father that everyone respects is the fact that he never let his ego get the better of him.  Even if he was the best at every aspect of life, my father remained humble and modest.  This is a truly difficult feat.

When digging up information about my father, I traveled to his hometown of Knickerbocker Village.  Most people don’t know where this is, but it is a typical Italian neighborhood near Mulberry Street.  When I arrived at my father’s old stomping grounds, I recognized a few friendly faces, one in particular.  This person was my family’s close friend Patrick.  I began with the basic questions, asking various about his childhood. Patrick couldn’t help but mention my father’s athleticism.  “Man, could your father play.”  Quotes like this bombarded me for hours as I interviewed different sources for information about my father.  I eventually came across one of my uncles who still lived in this quiet Italian neighborhood.  As soon as I mentioned my father’s name, I was in the middle of a story.  “I remember one time, Richie played an entire game of baseball without shoes.”  I couldn’t help but laugh at my uncle’s comment, picturing my father as a teenager running the bases shoeless.  When my Uncle Paul saw my laughter he said, “Don’t you ever wonder why your dad was called ‘Shoeless Richie’?”  My jaw hung unhinged for several seconds.  I never knew about this unique nickname my father had acquired as a young athlete.  Money was never abundant seeing as my father was  one of three boys, son of Italian immigrants, fresh off the boat.  “We couldn’t always afford shoes,” said my uncle “but your dad was never afraid to take on a challenge.”  Stories like this could go on forever, but it was something else that made my father the great man he is today.

Money was a hard thing to come by during my father’s childhood.  At the young age of fourteen, my father decided that it was his responsibility to help with the family income.  Being the oldest son, he knew sports could wait.  His family was in trouble and he took it upon himself to provide financial aid.  When I asked my grandmother about this she stated, “Your grandfather and I never asked him to help with the money.  That’s just the kind of boy he was, always caring for family.”  My father never really mentioned when he first started work, but I knew it was at this young, delicate age of fourteen.  He first started at odd jobs, working at the corner deli for three dollars an hour.  He knew that he wouldn’t rake in the big bucks, but whatever he made would help the family.

When he turned eighteen he acquired the job he still holds to this day: fish salesman at Caleb Haley.  This was no easy, glamorous job.  It consisted of heavy lifting and long work hours in inclement weather conditions.  He persisted through these horrific conditions over thirty-three years and can still sell a piece of fish to a restaurant at the age of fifty-one.  Many of his friends and co-workers left their positions at the Fulton Fish Market due to the unfavorable effects on the body, but not my dad.  When I journeyed to the fish market to ask people about his working skills, I learned he received a nickname from his younger colleagues.  I wasn’t surprised in the least bit to find out it was “Old Man Superman.”  Now, you may be thinking he was given this name because he looks twenty years older than his actual age.  This surely isn’t the case.  My father doesn’t have a grey hair on full head of hair, a gene I look forward to inheriting.  The name was given to him because he always got the job done.  Whether it was stacking twelve boxes of fish on top of one another or making a lucrative deal to the hottest restaurant in town, Richie Tortorice did it all.  His experience and expertise at this vocation was obvious. This eventually led him to become co-owner of Caleb Haley.

At the end of every night, as I lie in bed and try to sleep, I would hear the alarm clock in my father’s bedroom sound.  Grumbling and trying to wake himself from his deep sleep, my father walks past my bedroom and dresses for work.  After brewing his cup of coffee, he is out the door by 1:00am.  When I was 8 years old, I would scurry out of bed to get one last glimpse of my hero, my father, departing for work.  At around this age was when I began to notice the physical toll it was taking on my father’s body, especially his hands.  He would come home almost every day with his hands full of sores and cuts from the cold weather, but he would never complain.  I would always ask, “Daddy, why did you stay with the fish market so long?”  I’ll never forget the night he sat me down and explained to me his reasoning for putting up with the cold, bitter weather.  “It may not be the most glamorous job in the world but it pays well and it gives me time to spend with you guys [my family].”  Most people don’t know that my father’s work hours for the past thirty-three years have been from one at night to eleven the next morning.  He worked nights in order to have time to coach little league, see my sister’s ballet performances, and eat dinner with his family every night.  When he explained this reasoning to me, all I hope was that I became half the man he is when I grow up.

Like his childhood, he put his certain things on hold and never lost perspective on the most important thing in life: family.  If there is one thing I learned from my father it is that family is the most important thing in life.  “Never forget, family comes first,” he would preach to my sister and me every so often.  Providing a roof over his family’s head, loving his wife and his children was what this man did for a living.  Selling fish at the Fulton Fish Market for the past three decades was merely a hobby.  A man who is “admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”  When all my friends would talk about Superman and Batman as their heroes, I would talk about my hero, my father.


1 vincentli { 12.23.08 at 7:05 pm }

There is no doubt that you respect and admire your father, as do I, after reading such a praise-filled piece. Not to be a suck up, but I see a resemblance between father and son. As far as I know, you’re very active in sports, and big on family. Keep it up Vince, I’m sure that you’ll live up to your father’s character.

2 Keyana { 12.29.08 at 3:56 am }


This was very touching. It’s obvious that your father has made many sacrifices for his family and that’s commendable. My favorite line is your closing statement, “When all my friends would talk about Superman and Batman as their heroes, I would talk about my hero, my father,” it really summarizes your father’s qualities and what he means to you.