Paul Scheer Reflects on the Joys of Parenthood, Like Poop Shrapnel and Fewer Showers (Exclusive)

In his new book, 'Joyful Recollections of Trauma,' the actor and comedian writes about moving through a difficult childhood toward his authentic self

<p>Frazer Harrison/WireImage; HarperOne</p> Paul Scheer and his new book

Frazer Harrison/WireImage; HarperOne

Paul Scheer and his new book

Paul Scheer has a new book coming out, and it's a hilarious essay collection about trauma. Yes, really.

His first memoir in essays, Joyful Recollections of Trauma  comes out from HarperOne on May 21, and it explores his "admittedly messed-up childhood," as Scheer puts it, and the lessons he's learned as he comes to terms with how it's impacted who he's become.

“After years of telling these stories from my childhood on How Did This Get Made?! and people’s reactions to them, I decided to see if I could go past the anecdote and tell a larger story of how I grew up," Scheer previously told PEOPLE, when announcing the book. "Over these last two years I think I found a book that surprised me and still only scratches the surface.”

Scheer is known for his roles in The LeagueBlack Monday, Fresh off the Boat, 30 Rock and Veep. He and Grace & Frankie actress June Diane Raphael have two sons, Gus and Sam. Below, read all about their adjustment to parenthood in an exclusive excerpt from his new book.

<p>HarperOne</p> 'Joyful Recollections of Trauma' by Paul Scheer


'Joyful Recollections of Trauma' by Paul Scheer

Our first son, Gus, was born on one of the busiest nights at Cedars Sinai hospital. The energy in that place was like being at the hippest restaurant in town—they were overbooked, and they needed to flip tables. All the love, attention and care we were given during childbirth became “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” We were thrust into the world and had to figure out how to take care of this new baby. 

It’s shocking how quickly your world changes when you have a kid. After that switch is thrown, everything moves fast. My baby was new to the world, and I was, too. I was in complete sensory overload. Those first few months are very emotional at all times on no sleep. I was in love with this new human in my life. I was overwhelmed by all these new responsibilities, I was exhausted and I was mourning.

I was mourning the death of my old life—which is a hard thing to admit, because I don’t think you are supposed to be anything but happy about having a new baby and being a parent.  

<p>Paul Scheer</p> Paul and baby Gus

Paul Scheer

Paul and baby Gus

And I was. But it’s more complicated than that. You are transitioning from one chapter of your life to the next. June and I had kids in our 30s, and you forget how much freedom you take for granted by the time you get that old. You can pretty much go and do whatever, whenever you want. You can see late-night movies, have brunch with friends, make choices on a whim. But after you have a kid, the most mundane tasks become Herculean feats, and that is probably the toughest thing to get used to. Changing diapers is easy compared to running the simplest errand with a newborn.  

One day, I made plans to take Gus to meet some friends at the park. While Gus napped, I showered (which went from being a daily thing pre-baby to something a little less predictable post-baby). When he woke up, I sprang into action. I changed him, dressed him, bundled him up, put him in his carrier, put a blanket over him, grabbed the diaper bag, folded up the stroller, put the stroller in the car and put the carrier in the car. Ready to go. 

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Now I’m feeling accomplished, until a light pops on in the car: out of gas. Sh--. Okay, I can handle this, I think, pulling into a gas station. I’m slightly worried as I ease the car next to the pump and turn it off, because maybe the lack of motion in the car will make Gus upset. 

I quickly put my credit card in the reader. Denied

Double sh--.

The screen reads, “See cashier.” The cashier is only 10 feet away from the car. Can I leave the baby in the car? I mean, I’m only going 10 feet. Suddenly, I remember a teacher from our baby class saying, "Never leave your baby in the car! If you leave your baby in the car, you could be arrested! They could take your baby away.” So I stand frozen in the gas station lot, halfway between the car and the cashier like I’m in an invisible tug-of-war.

I’m conflicted: If the baby is within view, does it make a difference? Do feet matter?

F--- it. I run back to the car, pop out the carrier, and carry the baby across the parking lot to the cashier, only to realize I have left my wallet in the car. So I head back to the car with the baby, grab my wallet, carry the baby back across the lot. Pay for the gas. Put the baby back in the car. Get back in the car and head to the park. 

<p>Paul Scheer</p> Paul and a baby Gus, both sporting their finest headgear

Paul Scheer

Paul and a baby Gus, both sporting their finest headgear

When I get to the park, I smell something from the back seat.  

Okay, I know that smell. I gotta do a diaper change. Because it’s a park and there are no bathrooms nearby, I decide I’ll change the baby in the car; I flip down the back seat and set up a little changing area. It’s a little chilly, so I’m working fast to get him undressed while keeping him warm. With one hand, I wave a toy above him, and with the other, I’m doing cleanup, all while singing. When I remove the diaper, it’s an explosion. Of course. I go to grab the baby wipes, and . . . nothing. I search the bag, but still nothing. There are no baby wipes. Now I have a naked baby and poop shrapnel is everywhere. What do I do? 

I have an idea. I take off my sweatshirt, then the T-shirt underneath. I throw my sweatshirt back on, because a shirtless guy hanging around cars while dancing and singing with a toy in a public park is something you should call the cops about.

I rip one of my favorite LA Clippers tees into a few strands (that was painful—I loved that shirt), grab water from Gus’s bottle, wet the T-shirt strips and create makeshift wipes. Genius! I get him in a new diaper, get him dressed, put him back in the carrier, pull the stroller out of the car, pop the stroller open, put the carrier in the stroller, grab the diaper bag and meet up with my friend—only to realize I have five minutes before I have to leave and get back home for Gus’s next nap.  

That was, in many ways, every day for the first year. 

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Your only true ally in this is your partner, and even that person can be hard to read. There was one night around 3 a.m. when June and I had been up and down the entire night. It was just another night in new baby hell, and she turned to me and said, “This sucks—I miss our old life.” The biggest smile broke out across my face: “I do, too!” Then we burst out laughing, just giggling in a dark room, finally able to express the unspeakable.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to another person. But also we knew what we meant; we loved our baby and didn’t want to go back to our old life, we just wanted validation that this part sucked. 

As I started to emerge from the haze of the baby years, I found a whole new set of problems arising, because whereas the baby used to be the issue, now it was all me. These thoughts started to creep in: I’m a terrible dad ... Ugh, I can’t believe I let my baby look at a screen! ...That dad is doing way cooler stuff with his kid than I am ... Why don’t I camp with my baby?

There is no end to this whirlwind of insecurity, and to make matters worse there is no total score to look at to see how you are doing in the international dad standings. No matter how well you think you might be doing, there is this voice in your head: Are you doing enough?

<p>Paul Scheer</p> Paul Scheer, doing his dad best

Paul Scheer

Paul Scheer, doing his dad best

Every time I think I’ve figured something out, something new knocks me off balance. Like when my 8-year-old asked me whether Ja Morant was a bad guy because he was waving a gun in a crowded place (it’s nuanced) or how to deal with the fear that my 6-year-old, Sam, felt when he realized that I could die before him and made me promise I’d take him with me. Yes, I made a Thelma & Louise pact with my child, and I’m sure every parenting book would tell you not to. But it’s done, and I stand by my decision. 

I’m more than 10 years into being a parent and new things keep popping up, and I’m still figuring it out. I make mistakes all the time, but I’m trying not to be so hard on myself anymore. I’ve learned that my job as a dad, besides being a joint protector, caregiver and provider, is to be myself without judgment, flaws and all. 

I hope that my being myself lets my kids be themselves without feeling pressure to be anything but what they are. But if all else fails, no matter what I do or they do, I will support and love them. I don’t think I knew just how strong that unconditional love was until I was on this side of it. My kids have made me a better person, because I now bring this attitude into all of my relationships. 

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I love my parents, even though here I am writing a book in which I’m wrestling with how they raised me. The one thing I’ve never doubted is that they both love me and want to support me to the best of their abilities. I want my kids to feel the same way about me. 

My new life feels like an eternal game of Tetris, but there is a freedom in knowing that no matter what you do, the bricks keep coming. Sometimes you sweep the board, and other times you get jammed in the corner; slowly but surely, you get back to an equilibrium. As long as you don’t give up, you can stay in the game. I don’t know whether that’s exactly true for Tetris, but just go with me here, because my point is, I realized that I love Tetris.  

It’s hard and at times frustrating, but the fulfillment you feel when you make a piece fit is worth it. And more often than not, when I look at my sons, I see the pieces slot into place.

From the book THE JOYFUL RECOLLECTIONS OF TRAUMA by Paul Scheer. Copyright © 2024 by Paul Scheer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Joyful Recollections of Trauma comes out May 21 and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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