It is appropriate, even mandatory, for today's working dads to share the load of household responsibility.

But there are certain things we just shouldn't do.Sending Dad and the kids on a short grocery trip might seem like a good idea, but disillusioned moms everywhere will tell you that having a quiet house for an hour just isn't worth the alarming escalation in the family food budget.

Dads simply cannot stick to a list (or any other artificial boundary, except when patrol cars are present). To us, more is always better.

It's not our fault, though. It's all a product of our conditioning.

In competitive sports, for example, no lead is safe - you must score more points. In the dating game, the more you spend on a woman, the better. The bigger and faster your car, the higher your social status.

And besides, if you don't buy that critical food item you think your wife may have forgotten to put on the list, you'll have to go back to the store and miss Sports-center.

All dads, of course, continually sacrifice their own desires so there's more money to be spent on everyone else. This blatant unselfishness is why there's never any decent food in the house. Sure, I could eat shrimp, Swiss cheese, pistachios and chocolate-covered cherries for dinner every night, but do I put my own self-interest ahead of my family's?

You can see, then, that being sent to the store with a blank check and no clue the account balance is that low is a rare position for a dad to be in. You can have the White House, Bill (although for how much longer, I'm not sure); the power I crave is the power to:

- Buy one food item I like for every item on the actual grocery list. Examples: apples/crab legs; oatmeal/chocolate cake; bread/gigantic steak.

- Take at least two servings of every free sample the store offers so as to consume the equivalent of a free meal.

- Drink an entire quart of chocolate milk while standing in the dairy aisle, prompting a worried grandmother to inquire, "You're not putting that back on the shelf, are you?"

- Interpret the list item "cheese" to mean Nacho Cheese-Flavored Doritos.

Most impulse purchases, by the way, can be blamed on the condition of the list. Wives don't give the details; they just write "bagels" or "cookie stuff" and expect dads to know exactly what they have in mind, including the correct brand, flavor and package size.

A creative dad could read "cookie stuff" to mean a large tin of mixed nuts, a big bag of M&Ms and a jumbo-size package of butterscotch morsels, since all of those items can be baked into a cookie. And if that's not what she meant? Well, there's always a game on later and those sure would be nice snacks to have around.

Most dads sincerely appreciate how tough their wives have it. We know they can't do everything and are bound to leave a few items off the grocery list. Fortunately, the kids are more than willing to help out. And they know just what Dad wants to hear:

"Dad, Mom lets us buy this . . . Look, Oreos are on sale! . . . I'll tell Mommy this was my idea . . . Dad, you liked these when you saw them on TV, remember? . . . Two-for-one TV dinners, Dad! . . . Dad, you work awfully hard. You really should get yourself some of these as a reward."

It's like having little devils on your shoulder as you walk down the aisles.

And the hanging signs don't help. They aren't made for moms, you know. Moms already know where everything is. How else can you explain the prominent display of the popular items "toppings" and "jerky." When's the last time you saw an out-of-breath mom with three kids in the cart stop a store clerk and blurt out, desperately, "Where is your jerky!? Must have jerky!"?

But all cannot be blamed on clever marketing. Ultimately, a dad must take responsibility - and write down the total bill in the checkbook so that the "7" in "$74.53" looks more like a "2."

These are no secrets. Moms are well aware of what dads are capable of when turned loose with even the smallest list on an empty stomach. But even those of us who are officially banned from future grocery trips will get another chance. Some day, after a grueling 10-hour shift on the telephone, the wife will be too exhausted to shop. And Free-For-All Food Dad will be back in business.