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A Dad's Day look at parenting

When Kenneth Condrell of Amherst closes his eyes, he can still see the forest summer camp he worked for as a teen -- and the desperately unhappy kids spilling out of buses like so many tears, including one 7-year-old who wished Condrell could be his dad.

A younger Ken couldn't be his father, of course, but he decided that summer to dedicate himself to helping dads and moms be better parents as a child psychologist.

As he first spotted these unhappy children, Condrell recalls feeling "emotionally overwhelmed."

"My eyes filled with tears. One of the other college students had been a veteran of the Korean War and, despite his considerable war experience, he too became emotional over the sight of these children. I wondered what had happened to these youngsters. Why were they so unhappy?"

Condrell has spent nearly the last half-century answering that question and working to improve the lives of children.

That doesn't, however, mean that childhood should be worry free.

"I believe children should worry about disappointing their parents much like they worry about winning when they play competitive sports or failing an exam in school," he said. "A certain amount of worry is good for kids. It helps motivate children to try their best."

His own father, Nick, immigrated from Greece to Kenmore when he was 12. With his mom, Mary, also from Greece, the Condrells owned the Buffalo icon with the kid-fantasy name -- the Garden of Sweets on Bailey Avenue. Nick Condrell died not long at age 100.

"We received so many cards from folks who had fond memories of the Garden of Sweets, where they went to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays," Condrell said. "Often there was standing room only."

Today, on Father's Day, he thinks of his own dad, who later sold the business and retired.

His son says he grew "up with the feeling that the worst thing I could do was to disappoint my parents. I do not know how this idea was planted in my mind, but it was there up through my early adult years.

"Normal children from their earliest years want to impress their parents with their achievements and their behavior.

"Why isn't it a good thing, then, for kids to be apprehensive of letting their parents down?"

This question is also included in Condrell's new guide, "The Unhappy Child."

And it's a question often asked as recent research indicates today's youth seem more self-centered than past generations.

One way parents can promote "healthy" confidence is by teaching a child "new games to play and helping him to develop skills like roller-blading, bike riding, ice skating, skiing, golf, bowling," Condrell notes in his Amherst-published Prometheus work. "Every child needs to feel especially good at one or more activities or interests so his confidence will grow."

He dedicates his guide to his six grandchildren, noting his confidence that "they will touch the lives of many people during their lifetimes with their love, compassion, and kindness." Just like their grandfather has done.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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