On a Sunday morning in February 2023, I changed the phone number I’d had since my secondary school graduation when my father bought me my very first smartphone — after a lifetime of digital deprivation — and deleted all my social media accounts, effectively isolating myself from everyone I know. 

I still live with my parents, so I had no choice but to stay in contact with my immediate family. My 9-to-5 handlers, too, through Slack. 

But all other gigs were cut off. Every friend I’d gathered over a lifetime, cut off. Extended family weren’t left out. My father’s youngest brother’s “What happened to your phone? It hasn’t gone through in a while?” on his last visit to our house with his wife, was met with a clueless look and my feeble, “Oh really? My phone’s been acting up. I can’t afford to fix it right now.” The most random mention of financial need shuts any concerned individual up in this economy.

2023 had started with a surprise probation at work, delayed payments from my side gigs, ₦200k+ of my hard-earned money stuck in different banks because the famous cash scarcity had somehow wrecked digital transactions and our landlord threatening to kick us out of the house we’d lived much comfortably in for 15 years. 

Also, we and the rest of our extended family had lived on my great-grandfather’s estate forever, and the new government had put it under scrutiny.

I laid in bed that morning, burnt out by Nigeria’s worsening wahala, mounting work KPIs, personal struggles and family drama. But that didn’t stop people from expecting one thing or the other from me. I was missing deadlines, a lot of them. 

So I switched my Mi-fi sim with my phone’s and never looked back.

I know I did it because I was emotionally overwhelmed and needed an escape. But what I can’t figure out is why ghosting everyone I knew — most, very intimately — felt like the only way out.

Everyone I’ve told about this said the same thing: “It was valid. You needed to prioritise your mental health.” According to this study, 54% of Gen Zs and Millennials have ghosted a close friend to avoid confrontation. But who else ghosts everyone they’ve ever known? 84% of Gen Z and Millennials shared that they’ve been ghosted and don’t feel good about it. Everyone I asked about their ghosting experience expressed deep hurt, and sometimes, anger. How could I hurt all these people in this way?

Everyone is ghosting everyone to avoid confrontation, conflict and difficult conversations. People are so scared of confrontation that they’d rather ignore you forever than speak with you. 

But I do well with confrontation. I was appointed a student council member in my final year as an undergrad because I always went to the Dean of Student Affairs office to make demands when we were mistreated. A big deal because I wasn’t the usual spec; it was a faith-based university, and I skipped most chapel services and only listened to secular music. At my old job, I was the only one who could get the CEO to make staff-friendly decisions.

The defining factor in my ghosting tendencies was relationships, especially ones that involved my emotions.

Ghosting my entire network was the second act in the stage play of my life that followed a lifetime of switching up on relationships once they got too comfortable, or on the other hand, complicated. And this act came with a vengeance.

In March 2023, I blocked a company and its entire workforce once they started to demand more than was in our initial agreement. In October, I did the same thing to another company. 

In February 2023, I blocked a client after I missed a deadline because I was too embarrassed about it. PS: I still delivered the job before I blocked him. In July, I blocked my friend of over a decade after I failed to draft some documents I’d promised to help her with. I was overwhelmed and burnt out from helping every other person I’d promised to help that week, and she’d missed an important application in the UK because of it. 

It’s an endless loop: overpromise, fail, block.

But when I blocked my fourth romantic prospect in a row to display even a breath of emotional inconsistency during yet another talking stage, I knew it was time to come clean about my commitment issues and address its roots.

My early years, at least the parts I can remember, were calm but lonely. Nannies raised me — or more accurately, I raised myself — while my parents were out building businesses. 

Then, secondary school came with semi-retirement for my father, and our home got much hotter. There was nothing he wouldn’t scream about, no one in our family he wouldn’t venomously name-call. But of course, my mother bore the lion’s share of his emotional abuse. I never could pinpoint why he hated her so much. 

Our family of five is strangely close-knit, and I’m the firstborn, so I know my mother and father well. My mother is the very epitome of gentleness and sacrifice. My father, entitled and insensitive, despite his best efforts. I am the closest child to both of them, and even though their toxic relationship has ruined my life — as you’ll come to read as we go on — I still have candid conversations with both of them.

And so, I say “best efforts” because he doesn’t believe he’s been abusive. 

All my life, he’s done well to point out all the good he does for our family when he does them, as though to prove that when things inevitably go sour, he’s justified. Every payment of fees at our expensive private schools was followed by reminders of how great a father he is. 

So was hiring drivers to take us to and from school in his favourite Mercedes or buying ingredients for a full English breakfast my mother would proceed to slave over the cooker to prepare for the family every morning — we had maids. Still, she was the only one who could make his food. We were reminded that most Nigerians only ate bread and eggs; we had bacon and baked beans and Frankfurters — orange juice and hot chocolate — because of him.

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We’d soon find out that my mother was funding every one of these purchases.

However, my first memory of emotional abuse was on a school morning when I was in junior school. It was time to leave, and I couldn’t find my school bag anywhere. I searched for it for a while, but when I realised I was running late, I told my father, who was passing by, about it. The single act triggered a long fight I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

He started screaming at me. “How could you be so careless? What kind of person loses their bag?” I was an idiot, a fool. My mother came out of whatever room she was in and demanded that he stop calling me names, and he simply redirected his name-calling at her. This went on for a while; the screaming moved from room to room while I sat on our living room floor crying, wanting to die. The last thing I heard from his lips was, “You’ll only end up stupid like your mother.”

This was funny because, at the time, I was a child genius. I’d been promoted four times in primary school because I kept getting perfect grades, and I needed to be “challenged”. I entered secondary school at eight and was already on the honour roll. I also knew for a fact that I got the brains from my mother. She was smart, at least, book-wise. She ran all my father’s businesses for him in the background. 

Perhaps, what he meant was stupid enough to keep taking his bullshit.

We eventually discovered that the driver had proactively carried my bag to the car. There it sat, limp in the backseat when we finally went downstairs. The white daisies on the blue bag are seared in my memory now. After that, the name-calling ran amock. My mother forfeited many opportunities (business, career, relationship, networking, you name it) because of the emotional stress she was under. It eventually ruined her career. 

We’re the best of friends, my mother and I. I’ve grown to become her support system, voice of reason and shoulder to cry on, and I’ve had this responsibility since my teenage years. She’s told me everything. 

My father was her first serious relationship. They met in church during NYSC and courted for at least five years before marriage. In all that time, nothing seemed off. The few times they fought, and my mother thought the relationship would end, he’d return with a grand gesture: a handwritten poem, a handmade card, gifts, most of which she still had. I’d read them and still struggle to associate them with the sender.

They’d met while he was doing missionary work in Bauchi, where she’d served. After her service, they moved to continue the work in Kaduna. She lived with family members. He stayed with church members. When they finally returned to Lagos some years after, her first real red flag was seeing that his father’s estate, which he’d boasted about for a while, was a storey building where he lived with all his adult siblings, some with their children.

Back in Enugu, her own father, a celebrated chief and architect, had several properties, all of which eclipsed this “huge estate in Lagos”, as he’d called it. But she accepted this revelation, and they got married.

His grandfather had been a highly-ranked traditional leader — our family comes from a long line of true Eko indigenes — and the plan was to live off his estate while they focused on building a business and funding missionary work. 

But that soon fell apart when my mother could no longer stomach the politics it took to get those monthly paychecks. Sometimes, there’d be a family squabble, and the sizable cheques would go “missing” for months. The business wasn’t thriving either because all the revenue went into fuelling power generators because the electricity supply was even more subpar than it is today.

She had me a year after the wedding and wanted more financial freedom to raise me like she’d been at a good school with multiple extra-curricular activities. She got her first job and had her first post-wedding fight with my father. Basically, she was bringing bad vibes to his dreams of building a successful company and making an impact in the world by bowing to capitalism.

Once she started working, though, she had to submit all her wages to him. She did this for the next two decades, saving none of it, and still doesn’t understand why. But I know it has everything to do with the foundation of their relationship being church and missionary work in the early 90s. Most Gen Xs at the time believed the husband, AKA the head of the family, had to control the family’s finances. It was all part of the submission of a virtuous woman.

She trusted him to do what was best for the family. In return, she worked hard to make more money and move up the career ladder. She also worked hard to build their business, bringing valuable contacts they needed from work. My father was streetwise, so he was good at charming these contacts to actually let go of their money. 

But when things went wrong, as they often do in a place like Nigeria, the house got hot with screaming and name-calling. 

My mother was either an idiot who never did what she was told (when she didn’t take his advice) or loved to be right and was always eager to say, “I told you so” (when he didn’t take hers). She’d either try to talk some sense into the situation, which would agitate him more or make him walk out, or stay silent and swallow the insults, which would agitate him more or make him walk out. 

The results were always the same. By 2014, my mother had worked three jobs, even though my great-grandfather’s estate still covered our basic expenses, and the family business was churning out tens of millions. My father claimed to be redirecting these millions into other businesses, so my mother paid me and my siblings’ school fees for years. I got to find this one out after graduating from university. 

When she eventually quit one job and lost the others, I was happy about it because she was getting old and exhausted. She was finally home and semi-retired so she could get some much-needed rest. Only she couldn’t rest long enough because her free time at home led her to discover that my father had another family and had bought properties in their names.

Of course, my father has had affairs with other women since as far back as I can remember. 

He always introduced me to these younger women of different looks, shapes and sizes one way or another. One worked at a popular telecom and always helped us with network issues. One had a husband in the US but lived alone with her daughter in Nigeria; she was responsible for my access to cool new abroad clothes during my first two years in university. She also triggered my germophobia after she told me in gory detail how dirty campus bathrooms can be. Others loved to hang out with me simply because they perceived me as a cool kid. 

He never introduced them to me as his side-chicks, of course. They were just nice random friends of his. For whatever reason, he imagined that I would be too stupid to figure it out myself. Sometimes, our entire family would visit their families to give the impression that we were all just great friends.

From 2015 to 2023, we made more and more discoveries about my father’s betrayal. She confronted him with some, but he simply didn’t care about her knowing. 

Today, they don’t speak, but we all walk around each other in the house because, god forbid, one of them leaves a house they bought together. They’ve blocked each other, ghosted, and done it without the shield of a gadget, the internet or thousands of miles of space like most ghosters are privileged to have.

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When they have to communicate, they do so through me and my siblings. When he does something to her in private, like walking over her when she tripped or pretending she wasn’t in the room or leaving the house with the doors unlocked when she was the only one home, I was the one she told about it. When she found his other child’s birth certificate in our old house, she sent me a photo. 

During random conversations about my life, she’d slip in some mistake she’d made in her marriage. Before long, the conversation would become a variation of the same anecdote: all the mistakes she’d made that led her to the toxic situation she was now in, stuck with a man who hates her, struggling to build savings while out of work.

I’m heartbroken for her and filled with rage for my father on behalf of her. But I’m also heartbroken and filled with rage in my own right. I’ve paid all the house bills and my last brother’s school fees for a year because our inheritance is frozen, my father has blown all our money, and my mother is broke. I don’t know how to process this newfound backbreaking set of responsibilities. 

My mother has been a source of strength, reassurance and support (even financially) my whole life. But it’s often darkened by her uncertainty about the mistakes she’s made in her own life and her current lack of stability. I’m angry because I know we could’ve done more for each other if she wasn’t in such a weak position. 

I’m angry because her endurance of my father’s abuse has also affected me in every way possible. 

I have a debilitating obsession with making people happy with me. I can’t say “no” to people; blocking them is how I do it. I’ve entered situationships with people I don’t like and somehow convinced them I’m in love with them until they wake up to find themselves ghosted. I have out-of-body experiences anytime I’m remotely intimate with anyone, like watching someone else do those things from afar. 

I don’t trust. I approach every conversation like the person is lying to me, and I only need to play along, act like a fool, tell them exactly what they want to hear, so they can be comfortable. I have knowingly gone along with scams because I didn’t want to disappoint the scammer. In 2021, I lost ₦120k this way. And then, I blocked the person. Imagine blocking a scammer after giving them money, as if they didn’t already plan to block me.

Speaking of telling people exactly what they want to hear, that’s how I’ve convinced my father we’re on good terms so I can still dispassionately benefit from him. I’ve refused to let anger stop me from getting my dues from him as my father.

After changing my phone number, I contacted only two of my friends. The first was the one I mentioned earlier, who I’d blocked because I made her miss an application. So she’s now blocked once more. 

She was my oldest friend, and we’d shared many ups and downs before she japa’d in 2022 with her husband and child. She tried to reach me many times through my mother, who begged me to contact her, but I didn’t. On my birthday in December 2023, she sent me a huge food basket with a dessert cake and a note. I felt awful, but I was now faced with a new issue: how to contact her and explain why I blocked her. So, I stalled. 

I eventually unblocked and called her on her birthday in January 2024, and as expected, she was kind but cold. Over a decade of friendship lost. I cried myself to sleep that night, as I’d done most nights of my life.

In February 2024, my mother finally told all five of her siblings in different parts of the world about the situation at home. She told me they’d sympathised with her. They were understanding. 

They advised her to move into my bedroom. 

Her eldest even demanded she put me in contact with her — she was also a victim of my earlier mentioned change of phone number — so she could talk to me about confronting my father for how he was treating my mother.

What struck me was her audacity to believe I hadn’t done so in the last 20+ years of my life. I’ve confronted him for so long that I have nightmares of our fights. I still dream of wild shouting matches with him to this day. But what upset me was their lack of care about how I was doing, how the experience has affected me, how I too needed someone to confront him on my behalf, protect me.

She will remain blocked, as will the rest of my past, until I can escape it and heal. But is it awful that I also want to get away from my mother? 

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