My Dad, Sanford Norian, recently passed away on October 31st, 2019. I wanted to share a tribute to him for the beautiful man he was and for the gift of his heart he gave me.
I really loved my dad. He was a great man and a wonderful father. Behind every great man is a great woman (or another man). My Dad was lucky to have two great women in his life – my Mom Sandra, for the first half of his life, and Celia for the second half.
More than a father to me, he was a mentor, a teacher, and a friend. He gave me the best advice ever, “Whatever you do, follow your heart and everything will be okay.” He taught me how to be disciplined, courageous, how not to let fear stop me, and to live fully, love fully, and laugh fully.
If any of you knew my Dad, you know that he could be prickly. He wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it. Welcome to Norian’s world. But he was also a cream puff: crusty on the outside, always soft and sweet on the inside.
On one visit to Palm Springs, CA, his home, some years ago, he took me for a ride on his motor scooter. As soon as we were out of Celia’s view, he gunned it. The bike lurched forward at top speed of about 65 mph in a 25 mph zone. We both squealed with excitement, but I was terrified and held on for dear life. Then he turned to me and said, “Make sure you take time to smell the roses, Butch. Don’t work too hard. Enjoy your life.” (Butch was what he called me when I was a little kid because I had super white blonde hair cut very short.)
I admired my Dad for many things, but the two things I admired most were his humor and musical talent.
When I was young, I remember being in a room with my Dad and his dad, my Grandfather. They kept joking about oxygen deprivation. I never understood what was so funny. Later my Dad told me it was because of the Norian noses. Whenever two or more Norian’s gathered, there was oxygen deprivation.
In grade school during one Halloween there was someone in a giant beagle dog suit roaming around the playground. He peered in through the window of my classroom and all of my friends and I ran to see it. During the school Halloween parade, the dog was there again. He kept following me around. Everyone was infatuated with this dog.
Later that night I was trick-or-treating in the neighborhood with my friends and the dog snuck up behind us and we all screamed with delight. There he was again. While my friends and I stood there enthralled with the giant dog, he removed the head of the costume and it was my Dad. I was so proud. I became the most popular boy at school for the rest of the year. I know he did this for us kids, especially Sherri, my sister, who has a great love and obsession with beagles.
Then one day, Sherri and I were walking home from school and Dad drives by in his maroon Camaro, rolls down the window, and yells out at the top of his lungs, “Pyechal!” and then drives off. Pyechal is a made up Yiddish word for Puffy, our little beagle/terrier dog. We laughed hysterically.
Dad played the trumpet like no other. He was in the Michigan marching band, and I’m certain he practiced his horn next to me while I was in utero because I came out appreciating music. He founded the Sandy Norian Orchestra and played gigs all around town, in Grand Rapids, MI. He let me sit in with his band occasionally. He was the inspiration for me to start my own band at age 11 called the PeeWees. I later went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Music.
He taught me how to clean – cars, dishes, sinks, countertops, garage floors. Unfortunately, I also inherited his bad habit of overcleaning until the thing has to be replaced because it was so scratched up or it broke.
But of all the lessons he taught me, the most important one was how to love.
Dad was total in his love. He was total, over the years in his two marriages, his kids, and his work. He had a talent of expressing his love especially through his music with so much tenderness. When he played music, I could see a whole other side of him – his vulnerability, his appreciation for life, and his love for all those around him. When he played music, he wore his heart on the outside. It was so moving to hear him play. At the end of every gig, he would dedicate the last song to my Mom. It was a jazz standard and his theme song called Tenderly. He poured everything he had into this song and often moved the entire room to tears because he opened their hearts.
I love you Dad. You’re my hero. Thanks for being my father. I miss you. May you have a safe journey. May you rest in peace. And may you know that you are loved.
P.S. Here’s a song I heard recently that cracked my heart wide open for many reasons. It’s a beautiful jazz standard with a meaningful lyric sung by one of my favorite contemporary jazz vocalists, Dianne Reeves. But the reason why I’m sharing this with you is that there’s a trumpet solo near the end that sounds exactly like the way my Dad used to play the last song of his sets. Dad, I offer this to you as a gift of my gratitude for who you are and for teaching me, like the song says, “Love is the answer.”
Make Someone Happy
by Jule Styne, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden
Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy;
Make just one heart the heart you sing to.
One smile that cheers you,
One face that lights when it’s near you.
One man you’re everything to.
Fame if you win it,
Comes and goes in a minute.
Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?
Love is the answer,
Someone to love that’s the answer.
Once you’ve found her, build your world around her.
And make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy,
And you’ll be happy, you’ll be happy too.