On Parenting and Falconry

While I am inclined to favor the cultivation of personal responsibility over the imposition of regulation, I cannot help but note the irony of the fact that to practice the sport of falconry you must first obtain a license that comes only on the completion of a challenging and comprehensive written examination and a two year apprenticeship, while no test of fitness is ever imposed on prospective parents in the interest of the child.

Although those with ornithophobia might take exception to the following claim, raising children is more dangerous, demanding and complicated than caring for a raptor. And while I risk offending the sensibilities of my fellow falconers, I am fairly confident that a well-raised, well-rounded child is more important to the future of our planet than a well-manned bird.

That said, I would love for there to be an abundance of both well-mannered children and well-manned birds on this planet and I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive. As one of roughly 4,000 falconers in a country of 307,000,000 people, it is my great pleasure to share a few of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned while practicing this remarkable sport, lessons that have influenced and hopefully enhanced my approach to parenting:

  1. Raptors are highly sensitive creatures. In my observation, raptors meet calmness with stoicism and agitation with frenzy. Only a falconer who has mastered himself is capable of subduing the intensity of a wild bird of prey. Lesson learned: when you are concerned to extend control, never act out of reaction. Exerting a radiant influence compels lasting agreement while forcing the matter secures only temporary acquiescence.
  2. Raptors recognize patterns that you might otherwise miss. Raptors live and die by pattern recognition and falconers must take great care in the patterns they establish with their birds. Lesson learned: children are always watching, listening to and learning from their parents, whether they acknowledge them or not. There is no “off-camera” or “off-the-record” when it comes to raising children. You are always live and you must, therefore, take great care with your thoughts, words and actions.
  3. Raptors are never fully tame and are therefore always potentially dangerous. The relationship between falconer and bird is largely based on food, though some falconers, myself included, suspect a deeper bond. Lesson learned: while children can learn the art of civility, parents are wise to always leave room for the occasional irrational outburst. Take care not to allow flat spots to develop in the child’s character and when weaknesses are detected, don’t always go straight at them. Character flaws are not permanent and they can be back-filled with careful and thoughtful intervention.
  4. No two raptors are the same – physically, mentally or in personality. Every bird must be approached a little differently. Similarly, each species has its stereotypical traits, thought there appear to be more exceptions to the rule than followers. Lesson learned: The same strategies and tactics used with one child, say a first child, may not work on the next. Parents must be light on their feet, capable of tailoring their approach to the necessities of the child and of the moment. The failure to do so results in a parent seeming arbitrary, ineffective and out of touch.
  5. Raptors respond to respect. A falconer must be firm, but gentle with his bird in every interaction. Remember, these are highly perceptive creatures. Lesson learned: Respect is more than a mental concept; it is an non-threatening acknowledgement that carries a gentle, complementary energy. Respect should be the cornerstone of any and every relationship and consistent respect bequeaths the spirit of reverence in a way that no other combination of words or actions can.
  6. Raptors smell fear. Well, maybe not, but they do seem to pick up on timidity and fearfulness. When they do, they tend to exploit the openings provided thereby. Lesson learned: never end a command or exclamation directed at a child with the word “okay” (typically punctuated with a question mark). For example, “Go to bed, okay?” not only exposes your expectation and fear of an argument, it is the grammatical equivalent of a “kick me” sign with an arrow pointed to your derriere. You know what is best for the child. Deliver it with assurance so that you are not already behind the eight ball when you make an inevitable, yet less obvious mistake later on.

I hope that we can continue to refine our approach to educating future parents so as to obviate the need for regulations designed to protect or promote “family values.” Regulations are the coarsest form of managing human affairs, for regulation is the formal acknowledgement that we have temporarily given up on the idea that collective internal governance is possible within that sphere of activity.

Parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

14 thoughts on “On Parenting and Falconry

  1. Joshua

    Substitute the word “Raptors” in bold from 1-6, with children and….voila, consider yourself forewarned and forearmed for parenting! Having 3, believe me it can be challenging, however as this come’s at the latter part of the day, I am happy to report a victorious day in respectfully building the right relationship with each, from a long walk to the store with our oldest, to an eventful bath with our youngest who informed me that he is aware that all of the animals are preparing for hibernations… and how nice it was of me to throw food out for them to stock up on…. to training our 11 year old daughter on garbage day preparation, which was followed by her pre-prepping her lunch making apparatus, all simple but profound. You are absolutely correct about being that trustworthy point to which they can orient….and believe me they can most certainly smell fear!!!


  2. Colin

    These are very excellent points derived from your experience with falconry. Each of these points made me also think of the dog whisperer (haha). Cesar Milan always talks about “calm assertive” energy, and I think that is what you are getting at with most of your points. To have calm assertive energy, you must first of all establish it in both your private and public life, as that allows for it to remain when the pressure comes on it. You also must be the master of yourself, to be able to weather the storms that will batter at you when you practice it. Calm assertive energy is also the epitome of respect; you respect those around you enough to know that they understand what needs to happen in the circumstance, and while you will help them if they need it, you will not allow them to continuously do the wrong thing without consequence. However, the consequence is always measured, and is simply a balancing of the freedom/responsibility matrix that you discussed yesterday. I think if any of us are able to truly master this in our lives, our ability to take care of those that are our responsibility (whether animal or child) will be expanded immensely and will never be too harsh or too soft.


  3. MMc

    “Respect should be the cornerstone of any and every relationship and consistent respect bequeaths the spirit of reverence in a way that no other combination of words or actions can”. Too long for a bumper sticker but it should be a modern proverb!! This makes me think of how most parents will go to great lengths to demonstrate to their kids how much they love them. We’ll happily work tirelessly to provide for them but what we really sought to convey comes organically through respect. This is one of the most important impressions made on kids and it should be there from the moment of conception.


  4. David R

    Education for parents and perhaps especially for parents-to-be must consitute the highest leverage in terms of educational purpose and the potential for world-changing outcomes. This vital point has been missed to a very high degree, and it is the necessary precursor for a real shift in children’s education. Your points learned from the birds are wonderful and relevant. The principles of life are woven throughout nature if we are alert to observe and correlate.


  5. Lara

    Thank you!!! Please keep them coming. People tease me because I am always researching parenting styles and learning about early childhood development. It helps me to understand my options. When we left the hospital with our daughter 9 months ago, I thought immediately, we should have been more prepared. Everyday is a journey. I am grateful to have some great examples and resources of good parenting. Let me know when you start teaching classes!


  6. Kimberly

    Terrific post. Most parents I deal with are ill equipped to raise their children. I don’t doubt most of them their sincere devotion and love but they are not mature emotionally or equipped with the life skills for the job. Schools are there to teach children not raise them. I’ve always thought parenting classes were needed but I agree we don’t need more laws to force the issue, we need some good classes available and affordable. I think that it would catch on and people would attend. This post would be great material!


  7. Ricardo B.

    As an aspiring fellow falconer myself, I’ve learned a great deal in working with these fine creatures too. There is deep communication at every single step of the way, in the manner in which you care for and handle these winged delights. Any bad habit or sloppy move you carry forth can quickly turn into a sense of distrust from them. All the trust being established up to that point can disappear in a moment, and you have to start all over building that up again. Hopefully the temperament of your particular bird will allow it, meaning, hopefully they are forgiving enough and perhaps most importantly, hopefully you as the falconer are sensitive enough to properly execute the correction and continue the positive entrainment.
    I can see the great similarities you outline in comparison to the raising of children. All in our worlds similarly require great care, attention and nourishment -knowing when and how to apply these pressure points is indeed the art behind the technique. Anything you care for and are entrusted to develop I feel follows the same principles, whether it be your role as a manager at work or as a captain in a team sport, etc. In fact, you don’t even have to be a ‘leader’ in your job description and title — every level of partnered function requires awareness of these vital concepts.
    All these topics you are opening up force a greater awareness in your life, if you take the time to consider them. Though it takes effort and discipline, I’ve learned that it is what actually makes life the exciting adventure that many have spoken of before!


  8. nicolai k

    Excellent points. I don’t have children, but I was one and can see how this points would have been very helpful to myself as a child and my parents. Also, I’ve worked with horses and dogs and the same points would apply. Respect, courage, balance and constant adjustments are a central aspect living and the interaction we have with humans and animals.


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