Not long ago, an interviewer asked noted senior advocate and activist Phil Cannella about the early influences that had shaped Phil Cannella’s enormously successful career and fueled his unbridled passion for senior advocacy.
Below is an excerpt from this interview that takes a look into what has motivated Phil Cannella to get to where he is today.
Q: Tell us about some of your formative influences.
Phil Cannella: In the early 1960s, I was 7 years old and living in a row house outside Philadelphia with my parents, three sisters and a brother. Dad was a milkman with a meager paycheck and mom took care of us kids and the house. Bills got harder and harder to handle, and as time went on we just couldn’t make ends meet. We were overwhelmed financially…but not spiritually.
Q: That’s important, isn’t it.
Phil Cannella: Yes it is. We did what a lot of families do in times of need. To make things easier for us, my parents, Grandpop and Grandmom decided to sell their respective homes and buy a larger home where we could all live together. It was so exciting for us kids to move in with our grandparents, to wake up and see them everyday. Despite the financial struggles that we went through in those early years, our family life was great. We kids grew up happy and healthy, and as the years rolled by we shared many good times and built many wonderful memories in that house. Those were the days and we all knew it.
Q: What special memories do you have?
Phil Cannella: Every Tuesday night was pasta night at 5:30 sharp. It was just before one of those pasta dinners that my grandpop came rushing through the door on his last day of work after 37 years of service as a delivery man, wearing his well-worn uniform for the last time, looking overjoyed, satisfied … relieved. He had worked so hard all those years. I’ll never forget the words he so proudly said with a great big smile on his face: I DID IT! I MADE IT! I’M DONE! I’M RETIRED! I was so proud of him. This was during my first year of college; I was just 19 years old and on my way to becoming a Special Agent for the FBI. But before I could start catching those bad guys, I first needed a 4-year degree in accounting to get into the academy in Quantico.
Q: You went to “FBI school”?
Phil Cannella: Unfortunately not. Life seldom works out the way we plan. A few months later, after Grandpop retired, he suffered a major stroke and was forced into a nursing home.
Q: That must have been terrible.
Phil Cannella: Yes it was. We all feared the worst. As Grandpop’s life faded away in the nursing home and bills began to mount, Dad found himself in the second financial struggle of his life. Once again, we were facing losing our home and everything my father and grandfather had worked so hard to build, all their lives.
Q: So what did you do?
Phil Cannella: I dropped out of college and put my dreams on hold and took a job to help pay the exorbitant nursing home bills. We all tried to pull more than our own weight. Dad, an aging man himself, tried hard to mask the signs of mental and physical trauma from caring for his sick dad and sustaining the family that loved him. He took on two more jobs so we could keep the house we all lived in and in which we had built so many fond memories. While my grandfather continued to slip away in that nursing home, Dad pushed himself to the limit to take care of us. He had always been my hero, but what a man. He worked 18 hours a day in three jobs; he was not just a hero to our family, but a true superhero. After nine long, hard-fought months in the nursing home, Grandpop finally passed away. Worse yet, he died with the thought that all he had worked for all his life was wiped out by the ongoing nursing home expenses and an illness he had no control over.
Q: How did things work out financially?
Phil Cannella: Thankfully, we were able to hold on to our much-loved home, because Dad stepped up to the plate and showed us all that if you’re not in the circumstances you want to be in, then create the circumstances you want. And that he did. Even now, as I write these words 37 years later, I cannot hold back the tears thinking about those uncertain days. My Mom and Grandmom passed away years ago, but Dad is still with us today at 80 years of age—and is still our superhero. I make it a point to tell him so every time I see him or talk to him. And those of you who listen to my radio show, The Crash Proof Retirement Show™, know that I end every show with a tribute to Dad.
Q: Is there a moral to the story?
Phil Cannella: While Grandpop and many others like him in this great country of ours believe that retirement is the end of the road—and that the planning is over—that simply isn’t true. Retirement is an entirely new phase of life, and signals that the planning has just begun.”
Sage advice, indeed, from one of the nation’s foremost senior advocates: Phil Cannella.