"I was fixing breakfast, combing my daughter's hair, washing clothes, cleaning house . . .

"I didn't have time to do anything at all," went on the complaining spouse. "I got fed up and felt a little abused."

Both worked, why couldn't both help with the housework?

They compromised: D.C. Police Officer Tim Gibbs has gained some respite from his home duties. His wife shares the washing and does all of the ironing.

The housewife's lament has gone unisex. As inflation creeps skyward and two salaries are becoming essential, working men are filling in as part-time househusbands. Among this city's keepers of the hearth are many policemen, who work nights and take care of their children during the day while their wives are at work.

But even in an era of more enlightened marriages, there are still complaints, the ones that used to come from women: about workaholic spouses; children more dependent on one parent than the other; colorless days with little drama beyond the daytime soaps, and sometimes a feeling of being overwhelmed in juggling job, house, children, with little time for personal interests.

"I keep moving continously," says Gibbs, 34, of Woodbridge, Va. "I'm going to die young."

"Sometimes I feel fenced in," says another officer. "Like in the morning when he gets off work I'd like to play cards or something. But I know I have to go home. Or you're too tired to go out. Or on Monday, your day off, you have to get home and fix dinner."

And while housework is not difficult, the men say, it can build compulsive tendencies.

"I've developed an obsession about the house being clean," admits Gibbs.

"I hate to see a dirty dish. I am forever washing dishes!" grimaces James Wilkins, 32. "As much as I smoke, I'm constantly emptying and washing ash trays."

And how about the obvious question: What's a stereotypically tough cop doing as a househusband? No threat, claim the men, to their masculinity.

"I don't regret it," says Wilkins, a tall, slender cop, quick with a joke and rarely without dark glasses. "They're my kids. It's teamwork really."

A house father since 1975, Wilkins' routine is similar to that of colleagues at District headquarters, communications division. He gets off work at 7 a.m., heads home to Dale City, Va., gets the kids off to school and sleeps until 1 p.m. Then it's housework and watching the soaps until 4 p.m., when he begins dinner.

If his two daughters, 13 and 12, and son, 8, are home, he supervises their homework. The family eats at 5:30; he catches up on more sleep until 9 p.m. and is back on his job as police dispatcher by 11 p.m.

Social outlets during the day? An occasional Scrabble game with the Avon Lady or the next-door neighbor.

"I usually bring over little things to eat," says Wilkins. "Our basic conversations revolve around children, the job, or what we're going to do on the weekend."

Wilkins' routine is old hat now, he says, but at first, "I learned very quickly to hate my wife's job."

Although police officers -- like other men in similar situations -- recognize the necessity of their split schedules, they admit that the result has been some loneliness and some marital strain.

Herbert Coclough, 42, a Lanham, Md., househusband for more than a decade and a police dispatcher at night, says he used to worry about a possible estrangement between his wife and their two children because he spent the most time with them.

Now he says his son, 14, and daughter, 10, have learned "to look to me to do certain things, to her to do others."

Gibbs has cared for Annie, 12, since she was 4. Because she is used to being with her father, Gibbs says she often excludes her mother.

"Maria will be standing beside her and (Annie) will say, 'Dad, can I go out and play?' She's so used to me she doesn't ask her mother."

As Annie approaches puberty, Gibbs says he's even more anxious for her to develop a deeper relationship with her mother. "But I'm going to leave that up to them."

Despite the rough spots, the house-father role is not without its pleasures. Most of the men like to cook and enjoy the time with their children.

Wilkins even launched a brief letter-writing campaign to companies endorsing their household products. (Among his rewards, a case of Shout.)

But Sgt. David Thompson, 36, a shy, gentle man of Northeast Washington, says a few of his house-father activities have unnerved him more than police work. For example, the first class trip with his daughter, now 11, a few years ago.

"We were having lunch outside at the picnic tables. Everybody had eaten their cheese and bologna sandwiches. I was sitting there with a bunch of women. Then they started talking about hysterectomies and having babies. They were saying things like, 'When I had my surgery I was sick for days.' "

Even now he blushes at the recollection. "I tried to ignore them and make like I wasn't there."

Over the years, Thompson has accompanied class trips to Ellicott City, Oxon Hill Animal Farm and to Shady Grove to see "Pinocchio."

"Believe me," he says, "you get an education doing this."