Not a crocodile hunter, not an Ozzie footballer, but a ballet dancer was honoured as Father of the Year in Australia for Father's Day this year. Li Cunxin and his family live in Melbourne where is is now a stockbroker and motivational speaker. I met him one day when he came to Geelong on a book promotion. What a charming man who stood up straight and elegant. The audience were mesmerized by his grace. His amazing story was told in his autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, which will come out soon as a movie, opening October 1st. A trailer of the movie can be viewed on-line.
However the Father's Day award is not about all that. It's about his values as a parent, particularly with his commitment to helping and healing one of his daughters of her profound deafness.
(Notes below from an Australian news source.)
Li Cunxin is known worldwide as Mao's last dancer.... He lives in Melbourne with his wife and children and has been named the 2009 Shepherd Centre Australian Father of the Year.
"This is indeed a great privilege," he said on receiving his award at a ceremony at NSW Parliament House in Sydney. "I regard this award as recognition of the important contribution all Australian fathers have made for the well-being of our children.
His book told of his upbringing in poverty in communist China before leaving home aged 11 when he undertook a harsh seven-year training regime at the Beijing Dance Academy. He went on to graduate as one of China's best dancers and became one of the first two cultural exchange students under Mao's regime allowed to go to the US to study.
However, after defecting to the US he was locked up in the Chinese Consulate in Houston, causing a political standoff between Washington and Beijing before he was released as a free man.
Mr Li went on to dance with the Houston Ballet for 16 years and performed around the world, meeting and falling in love in London with Australian born ballerina Mary McKendry. They married in 1987 and moved to Melbourne in 1995.
At 34, he studied with the view of becoming a stockbroker while juggling his career as a principal dancer with the Australian ballet.
However, as a father he has also helped his own daughter, Sophie, overcome difficulties after she was diagnosed with profound hearing loss aged just 18 months. Sophie, now 20, was one of the first Australian children to receive bilateral cochlear implants and went on to complete her Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) in 2008 and finished in the top five per cent of the state.
Mr Li said he was humbled to have received the award and it was even more poignant following the death of his own father earlier this year. "My values as a father and a family man have been passed down from generation to generation," Mr Li said. "My children are integral in my life."
Though for many people, Father's Day is a lovely day to celebrate the commitment of fathers and grandfathers, but we do need to consider that not everyone has a happy family. Couples separate, people become ill and die, and some women have lost their men in the past year. We didn't make a big deal of it at church this morning because it is a sensitive issue for some of our families. But one tradition we do have is for the women in the congregation to come out the front and sing for the men. Today, I played the piano and they sang a new song, Who do you say that I am to the African tune of Kneels at the feet of his friends. The words are in 'Love to the world' a Bible reading resource and were written by Rev Russell Davies, a retired minister.