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Crossing Generations

Actor Michael Caine talks about intergenerational relationships.

Like people everywhere, I’ve been excited to watch a family with young children take up residence in the White House. I live in England, and the media here kept us well apprised of the Obamas’ moving plans. When I heard that the president’s mother-in-law was coming to Washington to help raise the Obama girls, I thought it was wonderful. Every child deserves to grow up surrounded by loving family—and the more generations, the better.

To me, family is the most important unit that we’ve ever invented. Family doesn’t only mean blood relations; we all have friends who are just like family to us. It’s a situation I’ve portrayed many times in films. In my new movie, Is Anybody There?, my character, Clarence, is a retired magician who moves into an old-age home run by a couple with a 10-year-old son named Edward. Clarence and Edward’s relationship grows as they get to know each other. The natural father in Clarence comes out, and by the end, they couldn’t feel any closer if they had the same DNA.

That movie relationship feels true to my own experience. One of the most important people in my life was my agent Dennis Selinger, who took me under his wing when I was a small-part actor. He was about 15 years older, and while he became a kind of father figure to me, he was also a friend. When things went wrong, I could call him up and we would go have a beer and talk. He was very proud when I became successful.

Dennis worked very hard, and was a bachelor for most of his life. After my wife, Shakira, and I married in 1973, he became a part of our family and was godfather to our daughter, Natasha. In fact, the children thought he was their grandfather when they were little, because he was always around.

Of course, friendship is about constancy during bad times as well as good. When Dennis was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, I did my best to be there for him. One day I went to see him when he was very sick. I had to go to Los Angeles, and Dennis said, “You go, and I will see you when you come back.” I got out in the corridor and I thought, “Hell, I didn’t say goodbye.” So I ran back in and said, “Goodbye, Dennis.” He said, “Goodbye, Mike, take care.”

We didn’t see each other again, I’m sorry to say. But as I sit in my office, I can see photos of me and my closest friend for 40 years, reminding me that family isn’t only blood—it’s the friends you love, across the generations.

Michael Caine is an Academy Award-winning actor.