Writing for the opinion pages

I’ve written a lot of op-ed pieces over the years for a variety of clients. For those of you scratching your heads over the term “op-ed,” it means “opposite editorial” — it’s the page in a newspaper that is opposite the paper’s editorial page. Op-ed pages usually contain opinion pieces that may come from a variety of sources, and may or may not agree with the newspaper’s editorial positions.This piece — about employers who may be considering hiring older workers — was written for an employment attorney.


In an economy still recovering from the worst downturn in more than 75 years, why are employers even thinking about hiring older workers?

Aren’t older people hopelessly behind the 8-ball when it comes to technology? And isn’t that especially true if someone has been retired for several years?

Well, yes. And no.

Older workers may not be able to navigate the internet with their eyes closed, but they do have abilities and skills that younger workers not only don’t have, but may not even be able to recognize.

While many employers may love the technical abilities of younger people, they are less in love with their short attention spans; their lack of important life experiences; and, sometimes, their less-than-perfect work ethics. All that can make employers pine for the old days, and for older workers, too.

Some older workers who could hardly wait for retirement find it’s not all it was cracked up to be. Retirement can be boring after 40+ years of workplace challenges and excitement. As costs rise, that retirement nest egg may not go as far as they hoped. And there’s nothing like a job to inspire one to get out of bed in the morning.

If you are an older person who is contemplating a return to the workplace, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • BE READY FOR CHANGE: Technology moves at lightning speed, and you’ve got to to keep up. That doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into an IT wizard; it just means there are technologies that apply to your field, and you must be able to work with them.
  • YOUR STATUS MAY BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME: Maybe you were an executive, department head or some other kind of boss before you retired. This time, employers may be more interested in your skills than in your management abilities. Make sure that’s okay with you before you take the plunge.
  • IF YOU ARE GOOD AT SOMETHING, SAY SO: Older workers may not be comfortable boosting themselves.  But if you don’t, who will?
  • FULL-TIME OR PART-TIME? Which would be better for you? Make sure you know the answer before you go back to work.

Okay. But what if you are an employer thinking about hiring an older worker, or workers? Make sure you navigate all the minefields before you take the plunge:

  • TREAT OLDER EMPLOYEES AS YOU TREAT ANYONE ELSE: Treating older workers differently is not only bad policy; it may also be illegal. Don’t act in a way that could be construed as discriminatory.
  • HIGHEST AND BEST USE OF EMPLOYEES: The older worker you hired to fill a lower or middle-level job may be capable of much more. Find out what those workers have done in the past, and what they are capable of. The person who has the most to contribute may be working for you in a lesser position.
  • YOUR OLDEST WORKERS MAY BE THE ONES WHO STAY: Research shows that the length of time a person stays in a job goes up correspondingly to the age at which they were first hired. In other words, younger workers may move on, while older workers may stick around.
  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE INTANGIBLES: You may hire an older person because of his or her skills, but don’t overlook the fact that they may have much more to offer.  The many years of life experience they have can be extremely valuable; Older workers can effectively mentor their younger counterparts; And the work ethic that most older workers possess can be worth its weight in gold.




Writing in the first person

I think most journalists will tell you that writing in the first person is difficult and even a bit unpleasant. It’s hard to lift the curtain on your own life and let people see you — it’s much easier to write about others. This is the only story I can recall that I ever wrote about myself, except perhaps for things like travel pieces. I wrote it to acknowledge National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and to commemorate the 40th birthday (and day of death) of my first child. Three newspapers — in Salt Lake City, Norfolk, Va. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — ran this on their op-ed pages.

By Arthur Frederick

Dear Baby Boy:

On a day in the not-to-distant future, I’ll pause to quietly take note of your 40th birthday. It is unimaginable that you, my first-born child, was born so long ago.

Things were different back then, in the early 1970s. For one thing, sonograms were not a regular part of a doctor’s tool kit, as they are today. If they were, your birth defect would have been noted very early in your mom’s pregnancy. As it was, your undeveloped skull and brain were not discovered until a number of hours after your mother went into labor.

“When I examined your wife, I felt soft tissue rather than a hard skull,” the doctor told me as we huddled outside your mother’s hospital room.

Today, because of that ability to diagnose anencephaly at somewhere between the 11th and 14th week, around 95 percent of families elect to terminate such pregnancies. That means that only about 1,000 anencephalic babies are now born in the U.S. each year; back around the time of your birth, that number was more like 20,000.

We didn’t have that option. But, to be honest with you, it’s a decision we probably would have made. Not because we didn’t already love you, but because I believe we would have accepted the inevitability of what was about to happen to you, and to us.

Those who end their pregnancies early avoid the indescribable pain of their child’s certain death. About half of anencephalic babies are stillborn; others, like you, are born alive, but are destined to die in as little as a few minutes or as much as a few days.

No babies born with anencephaly survive.

You died in an incubator in the hospital nursery, surrounded by a half-dozen healthy babies. I stood and watched through the big viewing window during the 20 minutes or so that it took you to go.

I’ll tell you a few things that have happened since then:

Your mom and I didn’t stay together very long after you were born. We were both devastated by what happened to you, and to us. But our parting wasn’t your fault.

You have three half-siblings, all girls. One is a doctor; another is a drug addict. Their lives, as well as your very short one, have taught me that having children, while joyful, is a risky business with unpredictable outcomes.

Both your mom and I are grandparents. Since you would be 40, you might well have had children of your own by now who would be approaching college age. I feel sad at having missed that, and even sadder when I think about all the things you missed.

You may have noticed that I opened this letter by referring to you as Baby Boy. You were going to be Matthew, but under the circumstances, we decided not to name you, and Baby Boy is how you are listed on your birth and death certificates. It was a decision, among many others, that we had to make in a hurry and under great stress. I hope it was the right one, but I don’t know.

Not naming you may leave the impression that we simply hoped to avoid the pain of your death by not acknowledging your life. That was not the case. Not at all.

Forty years after your brief time here, your dad still loves you very much.

Arthur Frederick is a journalist and a public relations consultant. He lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.