Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 27, 2013

Anne Stanton: What makes a super hero?


---- — I watch a lot of movies with my 9-year-old son. A recent movie, “After Earth,” wasn’t exactly a commercial or critical success, but I liked the message: you can choose fear — or not.

In this case, there were these blind, predator monsters called Ursas that detect victims by sniffing out their fear and promptly ripping them apart. But “ghosters” could trick them by taming their fear. The Ursas would walk right over them as if they didn’t exist.

I often wonder if kids pick up these messages and apply them to ordinary life, or if it’s all about the super hero, wham, bam fights. Probably the latter.

I thought of this movie after reporting on a non-profit called Experience Works that runs a job program that helps older, very poor folks get training and, hopefully, a real job. One of its clients — Paul Fretheim — intrigued me.

Fretheim worked for Tower Automotive as an administrative assistant, but was laid off eight years ago when the company declared bankruptcy.

He hasn’t held a permanent job since. Maybe, he said, it’s because some employers prefer women for office work — two women told him they didn’t want a man. He found temporary jobs for a few years, but the work ran out and he was back to square one.

Now Fretheim is an Experience Works client. He’s paid $7.40 an hour and works about 20 hours a week at the Old Town Playhouse. They love him there. He’s getting their filing out of the way and much more. In turn, the Playhouse is teaching him current software programs.

Although Fretheim works at the Playhouse, he doesn’t actually have a job there. Fretheim gets paid by Experience Works with the hope that the training he gets at the Playhouse will help him find a permanent job.

Fretheim is tall and slim with a distinguished gray beard, reflecting his 60 years. He seemed unusually happy for a guy who supports himself and his wife on $148 a week. My anxiety level, I confess, would go through the roof if I was faced with such bleak prospects.

He gets by, he said, with help from government programs and friends. He and his wife, who can’t work, grow a garden and do a lot of canning.

Still, it’s hard to make those dollars stretch. He can’t afford Wi-Fi, so he uses a library computer to take online classes.

Fretheim said nobody can ever take away from you what’s truly important. For him, it’s faith and hope. He recites the passage in Philippeans that speaks of want and abundance. It’s hope that keeps him going to Michigan Works, once or twice a week, to look for a job. Eight years straight.

Freitheim said he looks at adversity as a kind of gift. For one, it’s given him a peek into the world that he might have otherwise missed.

“Our car is so very old, I ride a BATA bus three times a week, and what a precious gift that is,” he said. “Everyone should ride BATA. You see every kind of personality on BATA, except, I suppose, the very well off. There are the handicapped, mentally and physically, those who lost their licenses because of alcohol and drugs. The drivers are superb. When somebody gets on, the driver knows them by name. It becomes truly a support group. People ask each other about their problems. ”

Some might look at Fretheim as an ordinary guy looking for an ordinary job. But that attitude of his, it’s super hero all the way.