Forget Hockey Dad. Meet Anti-Hockey Grandpa.

He's the star of the Tim Hortons Olympic ad. But what kind of monster is he?

TONY KELLER March 6 2006

Forget Hockey Dad. Meet Anti-Hockey Grandpa.

He's the star of the Tim Hortons Olympic ad. But what kind of monster is he?

TONY KELLER March 6 2006

Forget Hockey Dad. Meet Anti-Hockey Grandpa.

media

He's the star of the Tim Hortons Olympic ad. But what kind of monster is he?

TONY KELLER

Just be glad he wasn’t your father. Or maybe he was.

Among the ads in high rotation during the Turin Winter Olympics were Bell’s beavers with cellphones, humans with Yoplait-induced logorrhea—and three generations of Chinese-Canadian men in Tim Hortons’ rink-side soap opera.

At first viewing, it’s a heartwarming tale of fathers, sons, immigrants and hockey. Does it get any more Canadian? Watching it, you probably choked up a bit. But after seeing it for the fifth or 43rd time, you may have started to wonder: what kind of a dad hates hockey so much, and loves his little boy so little, that he refuses to go to his son’s games—though he did once or twice sneak a peek through the Zamboni tunnel, keeping his visits a secret, as if the rink were a crack house?

Canada, you know Hockey Dad. Meet his nemesis: Anti-Hockey Grandpa. No, he will not drive you to the rink. No, he will not buy you a chocolate bar afterwards.

For those who haven’t seen the ad, a plot summary: somewhere in Canada, Grandfather, stern first-generation patriarch of a Chinese-Canadian family, has come to the rink to watch his grandson, Tommy. The father is surprised to see grandfather, who has never been to see Tommy play before. As they sit, the proud father, making small talk, says that Tommy is a good player. “Better than you,” shoots back grandpa. The father shakes his head, asking: “How would you know?” You are, after all, Anti-Hockey Grandpa. You never came to see me. You hated hockey; thought it a distraction from school and homework. Flashback to the early 1970s, and the son being dragged out of a road hockey game by the patriarch. “You must study harder,” admonishes the old man, leading him into the house while blond neighbourhood boys play on. “Not just hockey all

the time.” He spits out the word, “hockey.” So how can grandfather know that Tommy is a better player than the father? “I come watch,” says grandfather. The son can’t believe it. “Okay, what team did I play for?” asks the son. “You right wing,” says the old man, pulling out his wallet and finding a fading photo of a preteen in a yellow sweater. And so the secret is revealed: 30 years ago, he watched at least one game. “Thanks dad,” says the son, as our tear ducts swell. To which Grandpa replies, never making eye contact with his son, “gimme my picture back.” Thanks? What kind of dad waits until his

His son actually thanks him for living a lie? Folks have spent years on an analyst's couch for less.

son is pushing 40 to tell him that—surprise!— back when you were six, I did see one of your games, and maybe I didn’t think of you as quite the disappointment I always told you you were? And what kind of a son, on learning that, responds with “Thanks?” Folks have spent years on an analyst’s couch for less.

He’s cold, but Anti-Hockey Grandpa could be a genuine Canadian archetype, one a hockey-mad culture doesn’t normally acknowledge. Paul Wales, president of Enterprise Creative Selling, creator of the spot, insists that the story’s intergenerational differences speak to us, especially children of immigrants. The

Grandpa character, according to Wales, represents a first-generation, small-business owner whose view is, “you work hard and you work first, and that’s what your life should be about.” As for the revelation, 30 years too late, that Grandpa went to his son’s hockey game, “ifwe’d done it in a more gentle way, it wouldn’t have been genuine,” says Wales. “He wouldn’t have told him that he went and he saw him. Because it’s the way that relationship is with that culture from that generation.”

Wales says there’s been a huge response to the ad, with some people telling him that it makes them feel “like someone was looking right into my family.”

Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, maybe one of them. He thinks most immigrant parents are more balanced in their view of life than Tim Hortons’ Grandpa—but he also recalls a time when his teachers told his parents that they were worried that too many of his essays were about his favourite sport: hockey. His parents took it in stride; Wong was doing well in school. “But if you interview more ‘Canadian-borns,’ ” he says, referring to Chinese born in Canada, “they’ll relay their own hockey story to you. They all have one.” Which still leaves us with questions: if Grandfather was so opposed to hockey, how did his son end up playing? Who bought him equipment? Was Anti-Hockey Grandpa married to Hockey Grandma? We may never know. Wales says there are no plans for a sequel. M