Radio personality Bobby Bones reveals in his new book that he finally met the man he refers to as his “biological father” – the dad who vanished from his life more than 30 years ago.
But don’t expect this story to have a Nicholas Sparks-style finish. For starters, Bones never asked the question that his millions of listeners, who are intimately familiar with his hardscrabble Arkansas childhood, would want to know: Why did his father leave?
Bones, 38, feels he solved that mystery long ago. “I knew why he left,” he tells PEOPLE. “He was 17 when I was born. He left when I was 4 or 5. He was a dumb kid, and we’ve all done things when we were dumb kids that we regret. And also I knew why he never came back because I have that same genetic stubbornness — that ability to block it out — because I do that, too, with painful things.”
Instead, the two men sat at a Hot Springs, Arkansas, barbecue joint for lunch late last year and just shot the breeze for about 45 minutes. Then Bones’ dad went back to work, and Bones headed to Little Rock to catch a flight. Except for a few texts they’ve exchanged, that’s pretty much The End.
So why did Bones even reach out?
If he’s being brutally honest, Bones will admit that, “really deep down, it was all for me. I probably wanted to do it my whole life.”
Still, Bones would rather talk about what gave him the final push: his book, Fail Until You Don’t: Fight. Grind. Repeat, which is set for release on Tuesday. A followup to the 2016 best-selling memoir, Bare Bones, the new book is a primer on how Bones has methodically battled through his failures — and his fear of failing — to become host of the most popular country morning-radio show, on iHeartMedia.
As he was writing a book telling people how to overcome their biggest fears, Bones says, he realized he had to meet his father “so I wouldn’t be a hypocrite.”
“I can’t tell people that this is how it worked,” the Nashville-based host says, “and me not actually live by it. So that’s why I did it. I did it for the book because I wanted to show people that I also am going to learn from what I’m trying to say to you.”
In other words, Bones doesn’t have it all figured out, which is perhaps the most refreshing thing to hear from any author of a self-help book. Bones himself is a paradox of ego and humility — someone who can write an advice book while also making sure his readers know “I’m neurotic, like crazy neurosis, and I don’t think anyone can take this book and go, ‘This is how I’m going to live.'”
Such self-awareness has been hard-earned through therapy that has helped Bones understand a childhood burdened by poverty, an absent father and a mother (now deceased) who abused drugs and alcohol. Bones says he’s recently found a way to feel grateful for those difficult years.
“I just don’t think I would be where I am today without the situation that I came from,” he says. “I don’t think that I would have the empathy that I have for other people without being forced into this situation. So a bit now, I look at it as a positive. I hated it forever — hated it, felt resentful, ‘woe is me’ in every way possible. The last couple of years I don’t anymore.”
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The gist of Bones’ book is simply that dogged persistence (the “fight”) and discipline (the “grind”) really do pay off. And if you don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, you have to do it all over again — and again.
So far, the mantra has worked for Bones, and he continues to set his sights higher. At the moment, he says, he’s “making some pretty good inroads” toward his next goal of becoming a TV talk-show host. (Bones enjoyed his role as an American Idol mentor this past season.) Down the line, he says, he’s also determined to lead his home state and maybe even the country. “Yeah, I want to be the governor of Arkansas,” he says. “I’m going to be the governor of Arkansas. I might be president, but I will be the governor of Arkansas.”
Somewhere in the midst of his climb, he also is determined to overcome what he considers his greatest personal failing: his inability to have a lasting intimate relationship.
“I’ve had some great relationships that I have absolutely sabotaged because I’m afraid to get close to someone, and I know eventually I’ll run off,” says Bones, who is now unattached following a year-long relationship with “Criminal” singer Lindsay Ell. “I think that’s probably what I’m trying to shake, and I’m getting there. … I like to think that I can look at myself and have some mirror time and go, ‘Man, you’re screwing this up.'”
One thing that gives him hope, he says, is the devotion he felt toward his dog, Dusty, a pit bull terrier who died of cancer in March just as Bones was finishing his book.
“That’s the only living creature I’ve ever told I loved,” he confesses.
In gratitude, Bones dedicated his new book to Dusty: “Sadly, you’ll never get to read this. Mostly because you didn’t know how to read. Because you were a dog. RIP, buddy: 2003-2018.”
The humor, of course, was “a defense mechanism,” Bones says, that only partially masked a broken heart.
“I wanted to dedicate this book,” he says, “to whatever showed me that I can love things.”