Michael S. Zimmerman appeared to have an beautiful life growing up in a beautiful home in the wealthy suburb of Winnetka. His father Norman had a thriving car dealership in Schaumburg and his mother’s volunteerism earned her the distinction of Winnetka Woman of the Year in 1994.
There were vacations in London, Lake Tahoe, and other destinations, although Zimmerman’s most treasured memories were of attending Cubs ballgames with his dad as they were both avid fans of the team.
But Norman had a dark secret that Zimmerman didn’t discover until he was in his early 40s. His father had another family in nearby Glenview.
Zimmerman shares the true story of his father’s duplicity and how the discovery shook his world in, “Suburban Bigamy: Six Miles Between Truth and Deceit.” The absorbing book will be available on Jan. 17 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Barbara’s Bookstores, among other locations.
Zimmerman, his mother, and his brother learned about his father’s other family in 2013 when Zimmerman’s father was hospitalized in Chicago but told his wife, who was living in Arizona for her health, that there was no need to visit him. When Zimmerman called the hospital to check on his dad, the nurse told him that his mother and sister were there. He doesn’t have a sister.
“It was incredible to uncover it and then go through the aftermath,” Zimmerman said. “Shocking for my mother, my brother, and I to endure it.”
Starting in 2013, he learned little by little the details of how his father managed to maintain two households secretly for over 40 years. He wasn’t legally married to the other woman but that was never revealed to their two children. “Wife” number two didn’t even know that he owned a car dealership. She was deceived to believe that he was a lawyer who traveled frequently for work.
It’s mind boggling to learn that Zimmerman’s dad’s secret wasn’t uncovered earlier, given how closely his two families lived to each other and how prominent Zimmerman’s mother was in the community.
Zimmerman decided that “He got away with a lot because he was clever and savvy. And he got both families in their routines and enough things went right in those routines that not enough red flags were raised to ever derail him,” he said. “The longer it went on, I think the easier it became for him because all the routines were in place.”
Zimmerman’s book evolved from notes he wrote to himself as he learned about his father’s second family.
“It was deeply emotional for me. I was very close with my father. Initially writing notes became a way for me to try and make heads or tails of all these details we were learning,” he explained. “As time went on, I felt like, ‘This is a really interesting story. There’s no reason not to share it.’”
He began working on the book more seriously after his father died in April of 2020. That coincided with major changes in Zimmerman’s life, after he realized that he had been making some bad decisions, too.
“I’ve now reached a different place in my life where I’m now married and have a son and living life very happily,” he said.
Still, Zimmerman can’t help reviewing his life with his father — who he frequently refers to in his book as his best friend — and pondering how engaged with him his dad actually was when they spent time together.
“That makes me reevaluate what those experiences mean to me as I look back on them,” he said. “You want to embrace those warm moments that you still cherish but there’s a little bit of separation from how meaningful they used to be and what they mean now.”
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.