David Drysdale passed away on Monday following a battle with cancer
David Drysdale, the much-loved social entrepreneur who founded Fathers Network Scotland and Year of the Dad, has died, aged 50.
The father of two children was a popular and widely-respected campaigner, with a particular passion for men’s personal development and the role of dads in families.
Diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in March 2015, he underwent many months of chemotherapy which seemed to leave him clear of the initial tumour by early 2016, when he helped to launch Scotland’s Year of the Dad with the Scottish Government and dozens of partner organisations.
However, a new scan later showed the disease had spread to his lung, where chemotherapy subsequently proved unsuccessful. He passed away peacefully at Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh, late on Monday night (4 July), surrounded by his wife and family.
Hundreds of friends and colleagues, including Scotland’s deputy first minister John Swinney, have paid tribute to David, who found his personal mission to support men’s development after the apparent suicides of two friends caused him to rethink his own life.
Born in Cambridge but raised in his father’s native Scotland from the age of 8, he studied philosophy and political theory at Essex University before travelling the world as an actor and later turning to multimedia design in a series of start-ups in London.
But it was his friends’ deaths and his own sense of being “stuck” which finally made him question the male stereotype of self-sufficiency in his forties.
An organisation called the Mankind Project – for which he worked as centre manager in Scotland for four years – proved one such catalyst to growth, giving him tools to help men understand and process their emotions and find their mission in the world.
The shock and delight of fatherhood proved another defining moment, when his son was born in Edinburgh in 2007. Determined to share hands-on parenting with his beloved wife, Misol, he experienced a bias against male carers which he saw as the flipside of the inequality women experienced in the workplace.
Determined to do something about both at once, he gathered a group of concerned professionals together and Fathers Network Scotland (FNS)was born in 2008.
By 2014, under his leadership, the social start-up had become a widely-respected, gender-balanced organisation with its own research base and the ear of the Scottish Government.
David gave evidence at the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament, and a keynote at the first conference of the National Parenting Strategy, which now explicitly included fathers as a result of his influence on the National Father’s Advisory Board.
And as 2015 approached, he was delighted to hear that his plan for a Scottish Year of the Dad was to be fully funded via the Children and Families directorate of the Scottish Government.
In the event, his cancer diagnosis only months later meant David had to step back and mentor his colleagues from his hospital bed as the 2016 campaign attracted thousands of organisations, service-providers and families to “celebrate the difference a great dad can make”.
Leading the tributes, which have flowed in from hundreds of David’s colleagues past and present, John Swinney, who has attended a number of Year of the Dad events with his young son, said: “I was very sorry to hear of David's passing and send my condolences to his family.
“David leaves behind a tremendous legacy. He has played a crucial role in championing the importance of dads in child development and family life. His dedication to this cause led him to set up Fathers Network Scotland and, more recently, to develop the idea for Year of the Dad.”
Dr Gary Clapton, senior lecturer in social work at Edinburgh University, who was present at the first meeting of FNS and went on to write a number of papers for it said from the start, David wasn’t interested in sparking off the old gender wars or fathers’ rights.
He added: “David modelled a very different energy, because he saw that mothers and fathers were allies whose greatest love was their children – and in their different ways both suffered from society’s imbalance.”
At its half-way point, the Year of the Dad campaign has already signed up more than 1000 organisations and 1000 individual supporters from across Scotland, all seeking to create a more father-friendly world.
“David’s idea tapped into society at a cultural tipping point,” said Samantha Pringle, who has been acting chief executive of the organisation in his absence.
“It’s tragic that he won’t now see how Year of the Dad plays out, but he’s already made a tangible difference to families in Scotland and leaves a strong team determined to take his vision forward. We’ll miss him hugely, and send our condolences to the wife and children he loved so much.”
Nick Thorpe, a writer/journalist and close friend who joined FNS in 2014 to head up communications, said: “David’s achievement was to take the debate out of the polarising arena of gender politics, and show how supporting dads as nurturing parents benefits everybody: children, families, society as a whole. It worked because his whole demeanour was open, win-win.
“The way he handled his illness was as inspiring as the rest of his life. David refused to turn it into a battle, and everyone who visited him during those 16 long months was struck by his strength, dignity and warm humour.
“I know his hardest moment was having to tell his beloved 8-year-old son he wasn’t going to survive – but even then he was determined to help him feel all his emotions, encourage him not to bottle them up in the old male way. What an amazing dad!”
Ann Roberts, co-chair of the Fathers Network board added: ‘David led Fathers Network Scotland with a wonderful mixture of determination and adventure.
“His response to his illness and his seeking of the ‘gift in this experience’ was truly life-affirming. The board send our heartfelt condolences to his family, his was a life well-lived right to the end.”