Founder of Fathers Network Scotland

Born: July 22, 1965;

Died: July 4, 2016

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DAVID Drysdale, who has died aged 50, was a social entrepreneur who founded the campaigning group Fathers Network Scotland and Year of the Dad, an event celebrating the contribution of fathers.

The father of two children - including a baby girl conceived only weeks before he was paralysed by a rare form of cancer – Mr Drysdale was a popular and respected campaigner, with a particular passion for men’s personal development. He discovered his personal mission after the apparent suicides of two friends caused him to rethink his life.

An organisation called the Mankind Project – for which he worked as centre manager in Scotland for four years - proved particularly influential. His own fatherhood also proved another defining moment, when his son was born in Edinburgh in 2007. Determined to share hands-on parenting with his 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 it, he gathered a group of concerned professionals together and Fathers Network Scotland was established in 2008.

He was born in Cambridge, the firstborn child of Dougal and Judy Drysdale, but when he was eight the family moved to Dougal’s native Scotland to live in Edinburgh.

An outgoing and academically gifted child, he was educated at Morningside Primary and Boroughmuir High, where he was head boy, leaving with a clutch of Highers and the offer of a place at King’s College, London, to read medicine.

After a year out in Australia, however, he changed direction, studying electrical engineering at first, then switching again to find his niche reading philosophy and political theory at the University of Essex.

His first steady job took him around the world as a performer in the English Teaching Theatre, a British Council-funded international theatre company specialising in interactive comedy shows for learners of English as a Foreign Language

Four years later, he took an MA in political philosophy at the University of York before working in multimedia design at the start of the internet boom and forming a number of his own companies working on CD Roms and an award-winning educational video.

In the early 2000s, working in the fashionable internet enclave of Brick Lane, London, he kept strong ties with Scotland and his childhood love of Hibernian FC, not least as player and manager with London Hibs Football Club for four years in the early 2000s, lifting a number of national trophies.

But for an outwardly sociable, witty and successful young man these were also years of growing inner unease, which reached a crisis point in 2000 with the news that a friend of his, the director of the English Theatre company, had taken his own life.

Almost as disturbing as the death itself was Mr Drysdale’s sense that he was emotionally unequipped to deal with it, either before or after. “I saw him a week or two weeks before he died, and I had no idea he was depressed. I don’t think it would even have hit my radar, his sadness, because I was incapable of seeing it.”

Only two years later, a childhood friend and business partner, Chris Wells, died of a drug overdose. It was another shocking initiation into what an older David would recognise as an epidemic of male isolation, mental health problems and suicide. Around the same time, in 2005, he enrolled impulsively on an intensive weekend course with the Mankind Project.

Moving back to Edinburgh to be close to his family, he married Misol in 2007, and threw himself into becoming the hands-on father he wanted to be, although he noticed there was no community of men and wanted to change that. So in 2008, he met with a group of fathers and interested professionals to discuss the perceived lack of resources and support both for professionals working with fathers and for fathers themselves – at a local and a national level.

He willingly took the helm of the embryonic Fathers Network Scotland, working unpaid for the first few years. The aim was “a safe and compassionate Scotland where all children, their families and communities are enriched and strengthened through the full and welcome involvement of their fathers.”

It was a vision increasingly in sync with the Scottish Government’s own gender equality policy, and after giving evidence at the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament, and speaking at the first National Parenting Strategy conference, Mr Drysdale believed it was time to take the message to a bigger audience altogether and conceived Year of the Dad.

The idea quickly grew arms and legs, funding applications were submitted, partner organisations sounded out, and the Scottish Government backed the initiative. Mr Drysdale was delighted, and in January 2015 went full time as CEO of Fathers Network Scotland in preparation for a launch of Year of the Dad in 2016.

In the event, his cancer diagnosis only months later meant he 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”.

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. However, a new scan later showed the disease had spread to his lung, where chemotherapy subsequently proved unsuccessful.

Mr Drysdale is survived by wife Misol, son Manow and daughter Maya.