It's true story that's become something of a legend.

Oakland Raiders coach John Madden's wife asked her husband about driver's training for her son. "Oh, there's plenty of time," Madden shrugged. "They don't let little boys drive."

"John," Virginia Madden responded, "your son is going to be 16."

"It just hit me," the coach said in a San Jose (Calif.) Mercury interview. "I'd been so involved in coaching, in my routine, I hadn't seen him grow up."

Madden resigned in January.

While few fathers are apt to follow Madden's lead and quit their jobs more are becoming involved in child care, from chauffeuring to diapering.

"There is a big change from 10 years ago in awareness of the role fathers play in child development, and family life in general," said Wellesley College researcher James Levine, author of "Who Will Raise the Children?"

People are starting to recognize that fathers are important to little kids, and kids are important to men."

Part of this growing interest in paternity is necessary, as record numbers of mothers join the work force. More than half of all husband-wife families in the United States now have two or more earners.

The American husband spends an average of 14 1/2 hours a week in housework and about 20 hours a week in child care, researcher Joseph H. Pleck found in a 1977 study for the Department of Labor. When the wife is employed the husband reports spending 1.8 hours more in housework and 2.7 hours more in child care.

Some fathers, like 45-year-old attorney Ron Wertheim of Cleveland Park, say men must be educated in sharing responsibilities of home and family.

"The way our social system is changing puts strains on the family that tradition doesn't prepare us for," said Wertheim, whose wife Mitzi is deputy undersecretary of the Navy. "My First experience with fatherhood came 11 years ago when my son Carter was born, and I've been learning ever since. And like all education, it's not always painless."

A live-in housekeeper eliminates most cooking and cleaning concerns, but the Wertheims still grapple with questions like who takes Carter and 9 year-old Tiana to the doctor, attends parent-teacher conferences or helps with homework. Although the Werthims try to share these responsibilities, often the task falls to whichever parent can get free that day.

"It's helpful that I'm in a position where there are no time clocks to punch, so I can go and see my daughter's ballet show in the middle of the day and go back to the office and finish up my work at night," Wertheim said, "It takes mutual support and respect for each other's professional commitments to keep everythings going."

At the Bill Pennington household in Gaithersburg, 12-year-old Bill and 8-year-old JoAnn have learned to be more grown up when their parents have unavoidable work commitments.

"Once or twice when we've been running late they've taken cabs to school," said computer specialist Pennington, 34, whose wife, Eileen, is an information specialist. "Bill even registered himself in the second grade in a new school."

Because Pennington's office allows employes to use flextime, he can often start work earlier and get home in time for skateboarding or Frisbee before dark.

"If Eileen wasn't working perhaps I wouldn't be as involved with the kids as I am," Pennington said. "I diapered and fed them when they were little, and I fix dinner now if I get home first. But I really get wrapped up with my kids and I love spending time with them."

Pennington's biggest problem in sharing domestic responsibilities was during two years when he had to work 20 to 40 hours of overtime a week.

"If it remained that way I probably would have looked for another job," he said. "Some people feel their whole life is their job, but my kids are my top priority."

Total cooperation and organization among all family members is crucial in families where both parents work, discovered 30-year-old Alfred Tabor when his wife, LaCountress, went back to work.

"Every morning it's a mad rush here, and we're organized down to the minute, like the military," said Tabor, who awakens his 9-year-old daughter Wukana and 5-year-old son Muwata at 5 a.m. each weeday morning.

"I get the kids into the bathroom, cleaned up and dressed while my wife makes us all breakfast. We eat, clean up and pile in the car by 6:30. I drop the kids at the babysitter, my wife at her job downtown (D.C.) and then get to my job in Virginia by 8 a.m."

To pay for the faimily's $65,000 home in Oxon Hill, Tabor works part-time as a bartender and tax consultant in addition to his full-time budget technician job. Although he sees his children at breakfast and dinner each day, the extra work often takes him away from his family.

"I get furious when I have to work on Saturday," Tabor said. "I usually bring the kids back little gifts so work isn't a bad thought in their minds."

United Parcel Service driver Bill Scriber, 31, shares these problems. The strain of providing monetary support to help finance the faily's Acockeek home conflicts often with his desire to provide emotional support for his 7-year-old son Derick.

"Derick is on a baseball team and that's all he talks about these days," said Scriber who switched recently from a job that got him home by 4 p.m., to a higher paying position getting him there at 7:30.

"It's a good job, and we need everything we can get right now. But I'm missing all his games," said Scriber in a flat, dry and matter-of-fact voice. His brown eyes said more.

"There's never enough time to spend with your children before they grow up," echoed Benjamin Overton, 30, acting assistant principal of Cardozo High School. "But even if I were here 24 hours a day I still think there wouldn't be enough time."

Overton said he buys only wash-and-wear clothes so he can sit down and play on the floor with his 3-year-old daughter Camille and 7-year-old son Anthony the minute he walks in the door. He tries to get home before the children's bedtime at least four evenigns a week and sees weekends as "family time" when all four Overtons can be together.

Activities involving the whole familiy are particularly important in homes where both parents work, said child psychiatrist Lawrence A. Brain, 37, of Rockville.

"The whole way a child tends to view life stems from the family experience," said Brian who has a son Jay, 8, and daughter Kristina, 6.

"As a boy gets between the ages of 8 and 12 he nees to identify with a father or a man with consitency to be able to handle aggression and closeness, and it's time for girls to feel they're valued by a father-it helps them fell cared for and good about themselves."

Although Brain said he's made time to be with his children-each night at dinner, most evenings, at bedtime and every weekend-since his wife, Margaret, went back to school he also occasionally helps with meal preparation, bathing the children and putting them to bed.

"Perhaps now fathers, like mothers, have to balance out the large number of demands on them," he said. "I sometimes find it gets a bit overwhelming, but usually it will come to a head and we'll talk about it.

"I encourage people to talk about things they are thinking and feeling, and my children will tell me if they don't see me enough."

Often fathers (and mothers) who find themselves too busy to spend time with their children must learn to say no to unfair demands at work, said Brain, who advises "workaholic parents" to schedule appointments with their family as they would for business. He also writes "time prescriptions" for clients so they will sit down and talk with their families.

"If a father says 'I'm too busy,' the fact he's adopted that feeling may be a large part of the family's problem, he said "I don't think you have to strive for success at the expense of the family.

"A lot of guys use the office as a sanctuary. They can feel successful, competent and in control at work, but not necessarily at home. You must set priorities and live accordingly.

"You've got to want to feel comfortable in your role as a parent," Brain said as Kristina climbed up onto his lab.

"Children can make you feel nice, that's the best reward. And you can be successful at it if you like your kids and your kids like you."

Washington lobbyis Bill Montwieler, 34, spent nearly three years as a "houseparent," attending law school and caring for two children, ages 3 and 6, while his wife Nancy worked. He suggests these ways for fathers to find more time with their children:

Take them with you, even if it's just a trip to the hardware store or a walk to the newsstand.

Set aside "special time" each week to do things alone with them, and never schedule an activity for that time slot unless you can invite your children, too.

Turn chores into family activities. Fixing dinner or working in the yard together can transform drudery into fun.

Don't let the kids watch TV, unless it's a special program. "No matter what you do, you're never as interesting as the TV set." CAPTION: Picture 1, Dr. Brian with son Jay and daughter Kristina; Pictures 2 and 3, Bill Scriber and son Drick by Fred Sweets and Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post