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Whatever happened to . . .

The father of all diaries

Even though his son Nick is now away at college, Tom Cagley still writes every day in the diary he started when Nick was born. That's more than 8,500 days - and a lot of love.

By TOM ZUCCO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 7, 2003

Tom Cagley knew exactly where he was.

"I'm on book 66, page 8,859 and day-in-a-row 8,534," he said from his home in Baton Rouge, La. "It's such a part of my life now."

"It" is the diary that Cagley started on Sept. 10, 1979. The day his son, Nick, was born. He made an entry that day and has never missed a day since.

The entries are still in longhand, but they're a little longer now. Nick is 23 and no longer at home, so Cagley sometimes writes what he and Jackie, Nick's mom, did that day. Sometimes he writes about current events. Whatever it is, it's meaningful.

Earlier this year, Jackie and Tom moved back to Baton Rouge, where they had lived for several years before moving to St. Petersburg. Nick is in his third year at LSU, majoring in landscape architecture.

Why go to all the trouble of keeping the diaries?

When he was a teenager, Cagley became estranged from his father and stepmother. When he went away to college, he was encouraged to stay on campus during the summer. Holidays were spent at the homes of friends, or on campus with foreign exchange students.

"I can't remember if I ever felt more lonely," he said. "Eventually, I just kind of went my own way."

Cagley made a promise that if he ever had a son, he would always include him in his life.

Hence, the diary. Here's a sample:

8/24/80: Never losing touch with your children is the most important thing in the world. It grieves me immensely never to have seen or touched my father since 1954. It will never be understandable or all right to have cut me out of his life, never forgiving or forgetting. Blood IS thicker than water. God, how I wish we could have been friends.

The journals are out of cardboard boxes and in a fireproof container now. "There's room for 100 books in there," he said. "If I ever get that far."

Or if someone else decides to pick up where he left off.

Nick says he might.

"I'm kind of pumped to start mine when I have kids," he wrote his father. "But not yet."

"We'll see if the apple fell far from the tree," Tom says.

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