Les Sotsky felt cheated. The demands of his job as a partner at one of the city's biggest law firms gave him little time to spend with his 14-month-old daughter, Sophie.

That was before he decided to become the first man and first partner at Arnold & Porter to go part time. Now he works four days a week. Every Monday, "It's just me and her," Sotsky said.

As the pressures of dual-career families mount, and as fathers begin to realize they want to spend more time with their children, some men are starting to make the same hard career and lifestyle choices that women have been making for years.

Although their numbers are still small compared with women, more men claim they are experiencing higher levels of stress because of responsibilities at home. They are taking on more of the child-care burden themselves. A handful have taken paternity leave and passed up promotions for family reasons, according to major corporations such as International Business Machines Corp., American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and Du Pont Co.

In the last few years, the number of male employees who have stepped up to take "family leave" at companies has increased noticeably, human resource experts say.

At AT&T, the ratio of women to men who took family leave went from 400-to-1 a decade ago to 50-to-1 today.

Three men took advantage of Aetna Life & Casualty Co.'s family-leave policy when it was first offered two years ago as a way of helping employees care for elderly parents, a sick spouse or a child. The next year, the number was 10.

Since Eastman Kodak Co. launched a family-leave program in 1987, 52 of the 849 employees who have taken time off for births, adoptions or family illnesses have been men.

The evidence is stronger when you survey men who haven't yet taken the option but say they are thinking about it: In 1985, only 18 percent of male employees at Du Pont were interested in having part-time work made available to them, while in 1988 33 percent were interested.

"We have a guy in Boulder, Colorado, who took a six-month leave to be with his newborn," said James E. Smith, a senior information representative with IBM. "As a result of what he's done, he tells me other men out there have taken it. He is a crusader."

Then there are fathers like Sotsky, who became smitten with the idea after taking a paternity leave that allowed him to be with Sophie 24 hours a day for a month, an experience traditionally reserved for mothers.

"I decided I couldn't bear the thought of being without her," said Sotsky. "I love the biorhythms of the baby's day. That's what fathers miss, even if you're around on Saturdays and Sundays."

The lunchtime gang at Kids First, a day-care center on K Street, also is a sign that more fathers are combining high-powered professional jobs and parenting.

"It's generally known not to try and schedule lunch with me," said Don Reynolds, a tax attorney who eats with his 2-year-old and 4-year-old at the center about four days a week.

In some cases, the biological clock is ticking for fathers who have waited a long time for a first child and are eager to take on a new role.

"I carry a smaller briefcase when I come home at night because now there are things that are just as important, more important, at home. Being in my mid-thirties and having my first child, well, I've been looking forward to it," said John Kneiss, a manager at a chemical association who is spending more time with his 1-year-old son.

Many second-time-around fathers choose family over career, especially if they are secure in their jobs or missed out on diaper-changing, sleepless nights and soccer games with their first family.

James A. Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York, calls this phenomenon "the new fatherhood."

It's the guy who shares the burden of staying home with sick kids. It's the fathers who crowd into the "daddy stress" seminars Levine gives for companies. It's a bond trader named Steve Shorkey at NCNB Corp. who tells his supervisor he is taking paternity leave, not vacation, as was quietly suggested to him when he requested two weeks off to care for his newborn son while his wife went back to work.

"I don't want to suggest that men are bearing the biggest burden of family care ... but men are struggling with the issue, too," said Levine, who was in Washington recently to promote making parenting an equal-opportunity profession.

Many working mothers, however, are not convinced that men are taking enough responsibility for child care. These mothers are really handling two full-time jobs, they believe, and they don't feel their partners have taken on an equal share.

"Men. They don't factor," said L. Kim Smith, president of Metropolitan Mothers at Work, a parent resource center in Silver Spring. "If they manage to take a day off to go to the pediatrician, they want a medal. They say, 'I'm doing a lot more than my father ever did.' "

Many men also work for companies that do not make it easy to spend time with children and have a career simultaneously.

A survey by Catalyst, a New York-based research group, showed that 114 companies offered unpaid leave to new fathers. But when those companies were asked what amount of time is reasonable for fathers to take off, 41 percent said men shouldn't take off any time.

Fathers themselves also hesitate to ask for leave because of what human resource experts call the "wimp" factor. Informal focus groups show many men still prefer not to be cast as a father first -- even if privately they feel as guilt-ridden and stressful as women who work.

"If a man has to pick up the kids at day care, he won't make a big deal about why or where he is going. A woman might be likely to say she is leaving to pick up the kids, but in a man it's seen as unusual, deviant or not being committed to his career," said Douglas T. Hall, professor of organizational behavior in the School of Management at Boston University.

Judsen Culbreth, editor of Working Mother Magazine, thinks "it's very hard on fathers who are trying to do their share." But she also thinks a lot of men have yet to feel the conflicts, exhaustion and career frustration that many women have felt for years.

"It will be great for working mothers when working fathers feel more of that stress," said Culbreth, whose magazine's circulation has tripled in the last decade. "I look forward to the day when we can call the magazine Working Parent." Staff writer Margaret K. Webb contributed to this report.