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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!