Father’s Day is always a special day for me to remember my dad, Glenn Griggs Jr., who passed away 16 years ago. It’s also a day my wife & kids try to spoil me with a great breakfast, some thoughtfully written cards and a gift. When they asked what I wanted this year on Father’s Day, all I could think of was to spend the day with them seeing the monuments and memorials in D.C., starting with a sunrise breakfast on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For some reason, that just sounded like a cool thing to do, but it required us to wake up at 5:15am, wake the girls up – which is the bigger challenge – and head out the door by 5:45am.
Somehow we pulled it off, ran by Dunkin Donuts on our way to the National Mall, and we landed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial moments after sunrise to capture a unique view of Washington. And unbeknownst to us, we had the facility all to ourselves once few early runners had their fill of the view at sunrise. It was a fun moment to spread out the blanket, enjoy a breakfast sandwich, a few donut holes and a chocolate milk, and watch the girls’ eyes light up at seeing the Mall for the first time.
After breakfast, we started walking around to see as many monuments & memorials as we could, starting with Honest Abe. We went inside and read the Gettysburg Address on the south side of the memorial, took a few pictures on the steps of the memorial, and it was then that I realized we were standing in the same spot in which Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 60 years ago during the March on Washington in August, 1963. It is still to this day one of my favorite speeches of all time, providing the framework for the way we should treat one another, a struggle we’re still dealing with today.
It still baffles me how people with lighter skin tones have treated people with darker skin tones throughout the course of American history, not believing or understanding or caring that they were fully human, carrying the same Imago Dei – the image of God – as members of the human race. I took that moment to tell the girls about the history of slavery, Jim Crow and racism in our country, and reminding them that this is a form of partiality, or favoritism, which James warns us against in his letter to the believers around the world. Treating someone different because of the color of their skin is sin. Treating someone different because of their bank account is sin. Treating someone different because of their status in society is sin. If every person in America repented of the sin of partiality & favoritism, and every person began treating everyone as equals in the eyes of God, racism would end tomorrow.
After departing the Lincoln Memorial, we walked along the reflecting pool, which we found is just under a mile if you walk around the entire pool, and we headed to the beautiful World War II Memorial completed during the President Bush (43) years. It has two sides representing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in which we traveled to fight for freedom, both for the United States, but also for the oppressed people in Europe and our allied nations. The memorial not only included every state in the Union, but also those countries and territories which joined us to preserve Freedom and eradicate evil around the globe. Since WWII is the war my grandfather, Glenn Griggs Sr., fought in, it carried extra meaning to walk through the memorial listening to the waterfalls give a since of serenity as we read the quotes from the generals and the presidents serving during that time. Tiger jumped up on one of the stone plaques, so we captured a picture of him with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.
Upon leaving the WWII Memorial, we continued heading East towards the Washington Monument, a half-mile walk that even Tiger was starting to feel. He was walking/running with his tongue hanging out of his mouth the entire way, and once we arrived, we all sat down for a moment, gave Tiger some water, and then started taking a few fun pics around the monument. Naomi loves to be a character when the camera’s on, and she was in full play mode around the monument.
One thing you’ll notice is the different color of the stone pieces about a third up the monument, as the original work was a private venture led by James Madison et al, and work on the monument was halted due to a lack of funds in 1854. Two decades later, Congress appropriated $2M in funds to complete the project, and the stone used to complete the upper two-thirds of the monument was of a lighter shade and cut much more precise. As you get closer to the monument, you can see the edges of the stones in the bottom portion were a little jagged, comparatively speaking. It’s also much taller when standing next to it, and you can’t see the top when you’re within 20 feet of it at the base.
When the world isn’t upside down due to COVID-19, you can typically take a ride up to the top and look out across the entire Mall, as well as see Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and much of the Potomac River. It’s a beautiful site and a free pass, but this year we had to do without, as this attraction was closed. The really odd thing about D.C. right now is the lack of consistency regarding buildings being open to tourists or not. For example, The White House, Capital, Supreme Court, Libraries of Congress and the Washington Monument are all closed to visitors, but the National Archives, Smithsonian Museums and other local attractions are open for tourists. It’s really frustrating to understand, especially when it limits our opportunities to show the girls some of these incredible places in American government. Hopefully we can make it back here before the girls graduate high school to experience those buildings and history.
We continued our walk with a mile jaunt over to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which is on the other side of the Tidal Basin, a decent-sized pool of water connected to the Potomac. It’s a beautiful monument with several columns around the circular structure and a large portico on the front of it, and it was under a little construction during our visit. I love open-air monuments, as it gives it a feeling of being alive, of being fresh, even though it describes the lives of men who lives two centuries ago. On the four walls surrounding a larger-than-life statue of Thomas Jefferson are some of this most treasured writings, including his famous opening lines to the Declaration of Independence and his thoughts regarding the morality of slavery. I am still perplexed by Jefferson’s public writings against his private practices, and how he squared every day as he failed to live out the creed he so beautifully wrote about. Although, in many ways, it’s human nature to know what’s right and struggle to do what’s right. For example, we all know to eat healthy and exercise, but many of us fail to do so. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does explain why this may have been a hurdle too challenging to overcome in practice for Jefferson.
One of the bonuses of the architecture and positioning of the Jefferson Memorial were the incredible views through the columns from the inside of the monument. Both the White House and the Washington Monument are clearly visible, and we were able to capture a nice family photo from a gentlemen who offered to take our picture. And with the extra time we had, Naomi continued to capture some fun moments in front of the camera.
As we circled back towards where we parked, we walked past the George Mason Memorial to reach the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which is a really cool walk through water falls and stone-carved messages about his presidency. We discussed with the girls the fact that FDR was the only president to serve more than two terms, and it was his presidency that prompted Congress to pass the two-term limit for presidents moving forward. It would have been great had their been term limits for Congress in that bill, but rarely does anyone limit their own power while limiting the power of others. Say what you want about FDR, but he got things done, and all from the discomfort of his wheel chair, as one of our only presidents to serve with a physical handicap. Fortunately, he didn’t have to be on television, as radio & newspapers were the primary forms of communication between a president and the American people during his presidency. It wasn’t until Kennedy ran in 1960 that presidents became a visual presence to the voters, which many claim is one of the reason’s Kennedy, a good-looking young man at the time, won the 1960 presidential election as the first TV president.
We decided that the FDR Memorial was one of the better ones we’d seen, and it is well worth the time to walk through it on a visit to D.C. Unfortunately, it’s off the beaten path on the other side of the Tidal Basin, tucked in a little forest, so not many people find it. We only saw 2-3 families walking through it while we were there. One tip: start on the north side, or else you’ll do as we did and walk the memorial backwards, starting with his fourth term going down to this first term. Oops!
Before reaching out car, we also found the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, also on the other side of the Tidal Basin and somewhat lacking in presentation comparatively speaking. I was hoping it was have a little more grandeur, however we really enjoyed reading the numerous quotes from MLK’s many speeches, which Hannah ended up taking a picture of every one! I’m glad she appreciates King’s words, as they are still some of the most powerful words ever spoken in the history of our country.
We made it back to the car to drive around a little bit to see a few other spots before our timed appointment at the National Archives. We drove to Lafayette Square in front of the White House to see the statues and get as close as we could to the President’s home. It was clear that in the late 1700s & early 1800s, porticos were the thing, as just about every house except George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate had at least one portico, if not two (front and back) as the White House does. We stopped for a moment to talk to some young Secret Service agents, and then we headed out.
Our next stop was the Capital to see where bills are written & passed, as well as where nearly every inauguration has taken place since 1801. The reflecting pool and the Ulysses S. Grant Monument create a cool visual of the sacrifice so many have made to preserve freedom and liberty in our country. We pointed out to the girls where the temporary structures are built to house all of the dignitaries at a presidential inauguration, and how so many people line the National Mall to witness these historic moments. It is always remarkable to see the Capital building, but it was bummer not to be able to go in to see the chambers and the rotunda.
As our time approached to visit the National Archives, we headed that direction where we dropped off Tammy & Naomi to go on their tour while Hannah & I had a daddy-daughter date to Starbucks with Tiger. This is something we do nearly every week back home and is a time I’ve come to cherish with her. As she continues to grow up, these moments allow us to chat and have become some of my favorite moments with her. It’s hard to believe how time flies when you’re a parent, and knowing we only have five years left until she is an adult and capable of being on her own is a sobering thought. Our hope is that we are doing a good enough job to prepare her for what lies ahead.
We returned to the National Archives building in time to swap places with Tammy & Naomi, almost like a pit stop at a car race. We pulled up to the curb, got out and they got in, all in less than 60 seconds!
Due to exposure to light and for other reasons, pictures are not allowed in the room where the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution & the Bill of Rights are preserved, but I can still see the faded documents in my mind. We took our time reading about each and discussing the process the Founders underwent to form a new nation and a new government, the first government the world has ever known based on the idea of self-governance.
It’s interesting to know that most, if not all, of the Founders were intricate in starting several colleges & universities, as they believed that the only way self-governance worked was with an educated population. Sadly, our education system ranks us nearly last in the world among developed nations, and may be the reason we have so much division within our political parties, as it seems a few powerful people pull all the strings to control the way the majority of people on both sides think.
We finished our tour of the archives, then spend a few moments in the souvenir shop, as is our custom when available, to see if there is something we can’t live without. I’ve been on a T-shirt buying frenzy for most of the trip, but on this occasion, I found MLK’s autobiography and decided to pick it up. I don’t read a lot of books, but most of the books I do read are non-fiction accounts for the purpose of learning. Reading MLK’s autobiography regarding one of the periods of history I wish I had the opportunity to experience seemed like the best souvenir I could get on this day.
On the car ride home, Naomi and Tiger both decided they’d had enough, and they used Hannah as their pillow to get some rest. We were all pretty exhausted, but it was an incredible day, a Father’s Day I won’t soon forget. We’ve only been on the road less than two weeks, and this trip has already been absolutely incredible. So blessed to be able to give our girls this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m sure they will appreciate it more as time goes by.