WE are deeply saddened to announce that 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 - including a baby girl conceived only weeks before he was paralysed by a rare form of cancer – David 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, “celebrating the difference a great dad can make”.
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 last night on 4th 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.
A LIFE TRANSFORMED
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 for four years and later turning to multimedia design in a series of start-ups in London. A fanatical Hibernian fan, he was manager and player for London Hibs for four years.
But it was his friends’ deaths and his own sense of being emotionally “stuck” which finally made him question the male stereotype of self-sufficiency in his forties, seeking better rites of passage to the sense of adulthood he said had always eluded him.
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 was born in 2008.
A DREAM BORN
“From the start, we weren’t interested in sparking off the old gender wars or “fathers’ rights” said Dr Gary Clapton, senior lecturer in social work at Edinburgh University, who was present at the first meeting and went on to write a number of papers for FNS.
“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.”
He loved to quote the women’s activist Gloria Steinem: “The truth is that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it."
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”.
“I was very sorry to hear of David's passing and send my condolences to his family,” said Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who has attended a number of Year of the Dad events with his young son.
A TREMENDOUS LEGACY
“David leaves behind a tremendous legacy,” continued Mr Swinney. “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. I'm delighted that the Scottish Government has been able to work with David, his colleagues at Fathers Network Scotland and a whole range of others to make Year of the Dad a reality."
At its half-way point, the year-long 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 CEO 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.”
A WIN-WIN ATTITUDE
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,” continued Thorpe. “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 said: ‘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.”
The victory of his beloved Hibernian in the Scottish Cup was a huge boost as he came to the end of his chemotherapy – and only 10 days before he died, he was overjoyed when old friends from his old London Hibs team arranged for the Scottish Cup to be brought to his room in the hospice.
Please feel free to publish your tributes and memories of David in our comments section below.
We will keep you in touch with any arrangements for his funeral as they progress. His family have asked that journalists respect their privacy at this difficult time.
Media: for more information, contact Fergus Reid at Smarts Communicate [email protected]
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