My Dad, The Retiree

For my entire life, I’ve always known my dad as a working man.

There’s a saying for Filipino Americans in my generation: “If your parents are Filipino, your father is either an engineer, an accountant or in the military.” Being that my father has a degree in chemical engineering, that definitely rings true for me. Since immigrating to the United States from the Philippines in 1969, my dad has probably only held about half a dozen jobs. Though his first gig in the states was working at a department store, most of his employment pertained to his engineering degree.

Today, after 31 years as a project engineer at CSA International in Irvine, my father, Eligio Trinidad, retired from the working world.

Working for an employer that specializes in standards testing for the gas appliance industry, my dad has seen it all in 31 years: clients, testing, consultants, racism and discrimination, workplace stress and politics, a merger (his employer was originally American Gas Association, located eight miles from home in Boyle Heights; after being acquired by a Canadian company, it moved over 40 miles southeast to Orange County), long commutes by car and eventually rail, business trips to America’s heartland and Asia and everything in between.  There have been some perks, such as bringing home a propane BBQ grill and a couple outdoor heat lamps. For me, aside from the overseas business trips, the two most fascinating things about his job were his Disneyland assignment in 1994 and his accident in 2007.

His company was contracted to test and approve of the pyrotechnic features of the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland, and I’m proud to say my dad was the guy who got to visit the Magic Kingdom in a way most people don’t, and test it out, walking through the under-construction attraction with Disneyland construction workers and staff. He told me about a flame-shooting feature that didn’t pass muster, so my dad the project engineer had to tell Disney’s imagineers that certain things had to be modified before it was safe enough for public consumption. The ride opened in March 1995.

More recently, upon crossing the street after work on February 28, 2007 to catch a shuttle bus to the Metrolink train station, my dad was hit by a car on Barranca Parkway making a quick right turn at an intersection. He was reportedly thrown over 15 feet from the point of impact. Miraculously, he did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries (perhaps due to the duffel bags he was carrying that likely cushioned his fall), and only spent one night in the hospital. His leg was bruised and even after physical therapy his mid-sexagenarian body still experiences recurring joint pain over three years later, but the fact of the matter is, he is not only walking, but he survived.

Not too long after that time he declared his retirement date to be June 30, 2010. It always seemed a long ways off, my dad continued to be a working man.

Today at work, his co-workers threw a retirement party for him, with balloons, an oversized card of congratulations, a display with pictures of my dad at various work functions, and a large chocolate cake shaped like a donut. For me, he’s my dad, but for others, he’s affectionately known as “the donut guy” for his penchant for buying donuts across the street, especially for client visits. He also got a Burberry watch and some retirement cash. Now, after working the same job since 1979, he is no longer a working man.

My has the world changed since then. But mostly in the stark contrast between his generation and mine: Not only has he worked at a single job for three decades, but for nearly all of his employment career, he’s worked in the same field of his college degree. I, on the other hand, have never been able to be employed at a single place for more than two and a half years, mostly due to being laid-off. I’ve never been fired from a job, but in my other stints, I decided to resign under my own volition due to school, stress, or realizing that that particular job was a dead-end endeavor.And my USC print journalism degree hasn’t landed me very many jobs.

Today I work largely as a freelancer, mainly in the musical field. I’m sure I’ll work a few jobs for a number of years…but I can’t picture myself having an actual retirement – partly due to modern-day economic realities, and partly due to the fact that I haven’t, and will never, remain working in one field – that’s just my nature. I often half-jokingly tell people that when I’m 75 years old, I want to be the organist at Dodger Stadium (assuming they will still use organs at Dodger games in 2047).

But in a way I kind of envy my dad. His career at American Gas Association Laboratories/CSA International had a beginning and an end, and was celebrated with fanfare. For many people my age, we will probably never experience such a thing.

So congratulations, dad…you’ve made it. You’ve worked an entire career.

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