NORTH ANDOVER, MASS. — Even before Peter Baylies was laid off as a software engineer in 1992, he and his wife, Susan, a fifth-grade teacher, had talked about changing their dual-career status. Their schedules were harried, and their time with their infant son was short. ''I would drop John at day care,'' Mr. Baylies explains. ''Susan would worry about him all day. She'd pick him up. I'd get home at 7. We said, 'If we keep doing this, we're going to be on autopilot until he's in college.' '' Even so, Baylies adds, ''I didn't think I could quit my job and swing it financially. But because I got laid off, we did it.'' Today, Mrs. Baylies refers to that layoff as ''one of those godsend-type situations. One of us wanted to be home, but which one? Our salaries were pretty much equal. This settled the question.'' Yet as Baylies began his new routine, he struggled with issues many at-home fathers face. ''You go to the playground, and it's all mothers,'' he says. ''Your friends are saying, 'So, when are you going back to work?' Even our families were placing bets: 'I bet you won't last a year.''' In the beginning , he adds, ''I thought, 'I can do this myself.' After a while I was climbing the walls. You need at least one other father to relate to. Mothers at the playground aren't exactly running up to you and saying, 'Oh, you want to start a play group?''' Last year, to connect with other at-home fathers, Baylies started a newsletter, At-Home Dad. Subtitled ''Promoting the home-based father,'' the 10-page, $12-a-year quarterly offers its 700 subscribers a reassuring message: You are not alone. It includes tips on child-rearing, play groups, and finances, all written in a homespun style. Sitting in his cluttered home office and sporting a T-shirt reading ''Good fathers are good men,'' Baylies talks about his readers as three-month-old David dozes in an infant seat on his desk. He also pauses for occasional interruptions from John, now 31/2. Most subscribers are in their 30s, though ages range from 25 to 50. Most come from white-collar jobs. ''A lot are tired of the dual-income lifestyle,'' Baylies says. ''They're wary of day care and realize how important it is for one parent to stay home.'' He also counts wives among his readers. ''They find out what men feel,'' Baylies says. ''Many fathers are very devoted to their kids, but they're shy about expressing emotion.'' They can also be shy about contacting other full-time fathers. ''Men don't reach out for support the way women do,'' Baylies says. ''I give them phone numbers, but they say, 'I just can't pick up the phone.' But once they break through that barrier and get that initial contact, the next time is a lot easier.'' To break barriers, Baylies created an At-Home Dad Network. Nearly 150 subscribers agreed to have their names and numbers published as a way of making connections. Mrs. Baylies observes that the first year is the hardest for many at-home fathers. ''After that, they think this is great.'' Are public attitudes changing? ''Very, very slowly,'' Baylies says. But as fathers' visibility increases, he expects new paternal roles to become even more legitimate. ''A lot of fathers are afraid to take that leap,'' he says. ''My message is: Take the chance. If you can do it, do it, even if it's only for a year. The career can wait, but your kids can't.''